BALTIMORE — Saying “no one is above the law,” Baltimore’s top prosecutor announced charges Friday against six police officers in the arrest of a black man whose neck was broken while he was in custody.

At a time of nationwide outrage over police brutality against African-Americans, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby declared that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide, his arrest was illegal, and his treatment amounted to murder and manslaughter. She detailed what happened to Gray during his arrest and his nearly 45-minute ride in a police wagon, contradicting what police have said on some points and shedding far more light on what happened during his fatal journey.

Gray was carrying a legal pocket knife, she said, not the illegal switchblade that an officer described under penalty of perjury. And officers repeatedly denied Gray’s requests for medical attention, even when he said he couldn’t breathe. At one point, he was shackled at the legs, handcuffed behind his back, and put back into the wagon on his stomach.

At one stop, an officer “spoke to the back of Mr. Gray’s head,” and even though Gray was unresponsive, made “no effort to look or assess or determine his condition,” Mosby said.

“The findings of our comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation, coupled with the medical examiner’s determination that Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide,” Mosby said, “has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges.”

Onlookers shouted “Justice!” during Mosby’s announcement. Few expected such quick action. The city, where businesses were looted and cars were burned on Monday, remains under a nighttime curfew, with National Guard troops and police out in full force and huge protests expected. More than 200 people have been arrested and nearly 100 officers have been injured in the unrest since Gray’s funeral.

Malik Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice, said Saturday’s protest march will now be a “victory rally,” and said Mosby is “setting a standard for prosecutors all over the nation.”

Mosby announced the charges less than a day after receiving the results of an internal police investigation and the autopsy report.

“Mr. Gray suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside of the BPD wagon,” she said.

The stiffest charge, second-degree “depraved heart” murder, was filed against the driver of the police van. The other five officers were charged with crimes including manslaughter, assault, false imprisonment and misconduct in office.

Fraternal Order of Police local President Gene Ryan told Mosby in a letter before the charges were announced Friday that none of the six suspended officers was responsible for Gray’s death.

A lawyer for some of the officers accused Mosby of a rush to judgment that raises grave concerns about the integrity of the prosecution.

“The officers did nothing wrong,” Attorney Michael Davey insisted Friday afternoon. “These injuries did not occur as a result of any action or inaction on the part of these officers.”

President Obama said he doesn’t comment on the legal process but it’s “absolutely vital that the truth comes out.”

“I can tell you that justice needs to be served,” Obama said. “Those individuals who are charged obviously are also entitled to due process and rule of law.”

Mosby said Gray was assaulted by Garrett E. Miller, Officer William G. Porter, Officer Edward M. Nero, Lt. Brian W. Rice and Sgt. Alicia D. White. Each faces as much as 10 years in prison if convicted of second-degree assault. The van driver, Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., faces up to 30 years on the murder charge, and 10 years each for involuntary manslaughter, assault and “manslaughter by vehicle.”

All of the officers also face charges of misconduct in office.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the charges should lead to a change in culture for the police.

“To those of you who wish to engage in brutality, misconduct, racism and corruption, let me be clear: There is no place in the Baltimore City Police Department for you,” she said.

Mosby said she comes from five generations of police officers, that she respects and honors how police serve the people, and that this case should in no way damage the relationship between police and prosecutors in Baltimore.

She swiftly rejected a request from the Baltimore police officers union to appoint a special independent prosecutor because of her ties to Billy Murphy, an attorney who is representing Gray’s family. Murphy was among Mosby’s biggest campaign contributors last year, donating the maximum individual amount allowed, $4,000, in June. Murphy also served on Mosby’s transition team after the election.

At the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues, where the worst of the rioting happened on Monday, drivers honked their horns. When buses stopped in front of the subway station, people spilled out, cheering as the doors opened.

Ciara Ford of Baltimore expressed surprise at the decision to prosecute. “I’m ecstatic,” she said. “I hope this can restore some peace.”

“It makes you cry,” said her friend, Stephanie Owens of Columbia, Md.

“If we had kept quiet, I don’t think they would have prosecuted,” Ford said.

Community activist Ted Sutton surveyed the joyous scene with amazement. “You don’t see people chanting. What you see is people celebrating,” Sutton said.

The charges, and Mosby’s detailed explanation of what happened, are a first step toward transparency, he said.

“She took the time to critique the evidence,” Sutton said, noting that the officers face charges specific to their actual alleged misconduct. “To have each person charged with what they actually did, to have it come out this quick – this is something else.”

Councilwoman Helen Holton said the decision to bring charges is a “defining moment” and noted other injustices against blacks, from Emmett Till, a teenager lynched after allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955, to Rodney King, who was beaten by Los Angeles police in 1991, to Walter Scott, who was fatally shot running away from an officer in South Carolina earlier this year.

“My God, how many more black men must die before we say enough? Hopefully, Freddie Gray will be the last. If not, it is my fervent prayer that Baltimore city will lead the nation to say, ‘We will take down those who violate the rights of citizens, any citizens,”‘ she said. “I’m psyched today! I’m like, ‘Whoo!’ My feet are not even touching the ground.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.