The death of Freddie Gray, a Baltimore resident who died after sustaining a spinal cord injury while in police custody, has been ruled a homicide. State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby has charged all six officers involved in the incident and said Gray’s arrest was illegal.
Lies, disinformation, outrageous claims, and propaganda about this case have been spreading around like wildfire, and sometimes it is hard to figure out who to believe.
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Here’s a roundup of claims, rebuttals, and truths.
1) Claim: The police van carrying Freddie Gray stopped three times.
Last week, Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis said the van made three stops: one to put leg irons on Gray, the second “to deal with Mr. Gray” for an unexplained reason, and the third to pick up another prisoner.
Truth: the van carrying Gray stopped not three times, but four times: evidence of the previously undisclosed stop “was discovered from a privately owned camera,” Davis said during a news conference yesterday, and came between the first and second stops. Grocery store owner Jung Hyun Hwang told the Associated Press that police came in to make a copy of the footage his security camera recorded.
What happened during that mystery stop has not been revealed to the public yet.
2) Claim: Police said another passenger in the van said Gray was thrashing around and seemed to be trying to hurt himself.
Donta Allen, interviewed by two TV channels on Thursday, said he was the second prisoner authorities said was inside the vehicle with Gray. According to a police timeline, the second prisoner was placed in the vehicle around 20 minutes after Gray was arrested.
On Thursday, a leaked police document, reported by the Washington Post, stated that the second prisoner believed Gray “was intentionally trying to injure himself” by “banging against the walls.”
Rebuttal: Allen denied saying this:
“And they’re trying to make it seem like I told them that, I made it like Freddie Gray did that to himself,” Allen said. “Why the f*** would he do that to himself?”
Allen also said:
“When I was in the back of that van it did not stop or nothing. All it did was go straight to the station, but I heard a little banging, like he was banging his head,” Allen said. ” I didn’t even know he was in the van until we got to the station.”
Saying his words have been distorted by recent reports and that he doesn’t think Gray hurt himself intentionally, Allen also told a WJZ reporter, “The only reason I’m doing this is because they put my name in a bad state.”
3) Claim: Freddie Gray severed his own spine while intentionally trying to hurt himself during his ride in the police van.
This claim is related to Claim #2. A document written by a Baltimore police investigator, supposedly based on Allen’s alleged statements about Gray trying to hurt himself in the police van (which Allen says is a lie), suggests that Gray may have severed his own spine.
Rebuttal: Jason Downs, the Gray family attorney, said, “We disagree with any implication that Freddie Gray severed his own spinal cord. We question the accuracy of the police reports we’ve seen thus far, including the police report that says Mr. Gray was arrested without force or incident.”
Can a person actually break their own spine and crush their own voice box? Experts say it is highly unlikely.
In an article for the Daily News, Dr. David Samadi said the following:
From a medical standpoint, it is unlikely that the 25-year-old Baltimore man injured himself in the back of that van. The severity of his injuries seem too grave for him to have done that to himself simply by thrashing around or banging his head on something.
It is more likely that there was some type of direct blow to either the front or back of his neck, or somewhere along the spinal cord along his back.
As seen in a video taken by a witness who saw Gray being put into the back of the van, Gray was being dragged by the cops into the van, and it seems as though he was unable to walk.
The ability to control your limbs after a spinal cord injury depends on where along the spinal cord the injury took place, and how severe the injury is. If Gray was showing signs of loss of function in his legs before being put in the van, how could the injury have taken place in the van?
Now, let’s talk about the crushed larynx. Also known as a laryngotracheal injury, a crushed larynx is pretty rare in adults, except when there is blunt force trauma to the front of the neck, such as strangulation, or blows to the trachea from fists or feet.
This is usually caused by a car accident when the passenger does not have a seatbelt on, in the front seat, or driving, and there are no protective airbags.
In this case, the person in the front seat or driver is thrown forward and the front of the neck either hits the dashboard or steering wheel.
Is it possible that Gray’s larynx was crushed first, causing the spinal cord injury? Maybe that caused the spinal cord injury. In order for this to happen, there would have to have been a direct blow to the front of his neck, which is unlikely to have been a self-imposed injury in the back of the van.
It is unclear which injury happened first, or whether one caused the other, but it seems clear that there was nearly no way he caused the fatal injuries himself.
Dr. Anand Veeravagu, Chief Neurosurgery Resident at Stanford University Medical Center who specializes in traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, told The Daily Beast:
“I have never seen it before. I’ve never seen somebody self-inflict a spinal cord injury in that way. It’s hard for me to understand that, unless those terms [like ‘intentional’ and ‘injure himself’] are being used incorrectly. It’s hard for me to envision how a person could try to do that. It would require them to basically hang themselves in a car where there isn’t anything to hang yourself with.”
Dr. Veeravagu went on to explain that there are only a few ways a person’s spine can become injured like Gray’s was: a direct, penetrating injury (via knife or gunshot), fractured bones, which tear ligaments (via serious force or impact), or by hanging.
He also said most people do not die of spinal cord injuries – if they are given prompt medical care.
Veeravagu also said it is possible Gray’s spinal fracture could have occurred before he was put in the van, and that symptoms of his broken vertebrae could have been delayed until he was placed in the van:
“That is possible: It’s possible to have an injury to your spinal cord that gets worse over time and eventually progresses to complete paralysis,” he says. “Did he have an expanding blood clot in his spine? Did he have an exact fracture to his spine? Both are important to understand.”
Another trauma surgeon, who wished to remain anonymous due to the political nature of the case and because he is “surprised time and again by what I previously believed to be impossible,” thinks that it’s “highly unusual [if not impossible] to deliberately make yourself a quadriplegic while shackled in the back of a police van.”
Sources told ABC7 News that “…the medical examiner found Gray’s catastrophic injury was caused when he slammed into the back of the police transport van, apparently breaking his neck; a head injury he sustained matches a bolt in the back of the van. Details surrounding exactly what caused Gray to slam into the back of the van were unclear. The officer driving the van has yet to give a statement to authorities.”
4) Claim: Rival street gangs known as the Crips and the Bloods made a truce and plan to harm police officers.
A few days ago, the Baltimore police issued the following 7 Comments:
The Baltimore Police Department/Criminal Intelligence Unit has received credible information that members of various gangs including the Black Guerilla Family, Bloods, and Crips, have entered into a partnership to “take out” law enforcement officers.
This is a credible threat. Law enforcement agencies should take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of their officers. Notifications will be sent via NLETS. Further information will be sent through appropriate channels.
Rebuttal: Members of the Black Guerrilla Family, the Bloods and the Crips talked to 11 News and said they did not make a truce to harm police officers:
Now, this is obviously a case of “they said” vs. “they said,” but at this point, nothing has proven that gang members have actually gone after police. To date, there haven’t been any shootings or attacks.
Yesterday, the Baltimore Sun reported the following:
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s spokesman said Thursday that city officials should engage gang members if they are offering “a genuine effort to make peace.”
The mayor would examine information they claim to possess that discredits what police described as a “credible threat” that gangs were unifying to target officers, spokesman Kevin Harris added.
Local ministers and City Council members have praised gang members for helping to quell unrest in neighborhoods hit with protests.
That report also states that some gang experts doubted the police department’s claim that the gangs were uniting to harm officers. It also states that the mayor’s office would look into the police department’s claim, if the police would actually share that information with them.
Sources say gang members worked to direct traffic, talked rioters out of damaging property, and saved journalists who were caught in the middle of violent crowds:
When I am inclined to believe gang members over cops, there are huge problems with the world.
5) Claim: Freddie Gray had spinal surgery shortly before he died in police custody, and he received a car accident settlement:
The Fourth Estate has contacted sources who allege that Freddie Gray received spinal and neck surgery a week before we was arrested, and was allegedly receiving a large structured settlement from Allstate Insurance. The surgery is allegedly related to a car accident in which Gray was involved.
Truth: court records examined Wednesday by The Baltimore Sun show the case had nothing to do with a car accident or a spine injury:
Instead, they are connected to a lawsuit alleging that Gray and his sister were injured by exposure to lead paint.
Paperwork was filed in December allowing Gray and his sister, Fredericka to each collect an $18,000 payment from Peachtree Settlement Funding, records show. In exchange, Peachtree would have received a $108,439 annuity that was scheduled to be paid in $602 monthly installments between 2024 and 2039.
Jason Downs, the Gray family’s attorney, said, “We have no information or evidence at this point to indicate that there is a prior pre-existing spinal injury. It’s a rumor.”
It seems more likely that Gray’s injuries began before he was even loaded into the police van, and were further exacerbated during a “rough ride” to the police station.
6) Claim: School-aged kids in Baltimore planned a “purge” via social media accounts and were itching for a fight.
After Baltimore police and a crowd of teens clashed near the Mondawmin Mall in northwest Baltimore on Monday afternoon, news reports described the violence as a riot triggered by kids who couldn’t wait to get out of school and begin fighting.
Rebuttal: Parents and teachers say the police are the ones who caused tense but stable conditions to erupt into violence.
When school let out that afternoon, police were in the area equipped with full riot gear. According to eyewitnesses in the Mondawmin neighborhood, the police were stopping buses and forcing riders, including many students who were trying to get home, to disembark. Cops shut down the local subway stop. They also blockaded roads near the Mondawmin Mall and Frederick Douglass High School, which is across the street from the mall, and essentially corralled young people in the area. That is, they did not allow the after-school crowd to disperse.
Meghann Harris, a teacher at a nearby school, described on Facebook what happened:
Police were forcing buses to stop and unload all their passengers. Then, [Frederick Douglass High School] students, in huge herds, were trying to leave on various buses but couldn’t catch any because they were all shut down. No kids were yet around except about 20, who looked like they were waiting for police to do something. The cops, on the other hand, were in full riot gear, marching toward any small social clique of students…It looked as if there were hundreds of cops.
The kids were “standing around in groups of 3-4,” Harris said in a Facebook message to Mother Jones. “They weren’t doing anything. No rock throwing, nothing…The cops started marching toward groups of kids who were just milling about.” (source)
For additional witness accounts, please see Eyewitnesses: The Baltimore Riots Didn’t Start the Way You Think.
Who was actually behind that social media “purge” campaign, anyway? One source says many of the accounts (20 to 50 of them) are linked to those used to spark violence in Ferguson.
Prosecutor Mosby announced that the six officers involved in Gray’s death have been charged criminally:
Something is rotten in Baltimore, and hopefully the air will be cleared soon.
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