The six suspended Baltimore police officers charged Friday in the death of Freddie Gray are a mix of veterans and recent recruits, of varying ranks and assignments. Three of them are black, and three of them are white.
Theirs were once lives of anonymous uniformed service but now the five men and one woman have been thrust into the center of one of the nation’s most volatile police controversies.
The charges arise from the death of a man who prosecutors say was illegally arrested, bound at his hands and feet and left to fend for himself in a moving police van without the aid of a seatbelt, and then denied timely medical care when he called out for it.
Many activists on the streets of Baltimore on Friday expressed relief and jubilation at the charges, viewing the death of Gray as the latest instance of US peace officers treating a black life with a shocking callousness. In their view, the officers represent the all-too-common horror of urban law enforcement, in both its cruelty and its routine disregard for human life.
And yet, at the same time, family and colleagues rallied around the officers, declaring their innocence and praising their work.
"Not one of the officers involved in this tragic situation left home in the morning with the anticipation that someone with whom they interacted would not go home that night," Gene Ryan, president of Baltimore's Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said in a letter to Marilyn Mosby, the state's attorney who announced the charges with surprising swiftness Friday morning. "As tragic as this situation is, none of the officers involved are responsible for the death of Mr Gray. "
The most senior officer charged Friday was Lt Brian Rice (41) a 17-year-veteran of the force. Rice, who is white, was the subject in 2013 of a temporary restraining order in Carroll County, Maryland. A final order in the case was denied.
His lawyer could not be reached for comment. According to court records, Rice was the officer who initially made eye contact with Gray while on a bicycle patrol in one of Baltimore’s most distressed neighborhoods, chasing him on foot when he fled.
Officers Garrett Miller (26) and Edward M. Nero (29) - both of whom are white and joined the force in 2012 - caught Gray as he fled through the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, handcuffing him with his arms behind his back, Mosby said.
Along with Rice, they “failed to establish probable cause” for arresting Gray, Mosby said. The three men then loaded Gray into a police van but failed to belt him in, as called for by police regulations, Mosby added.
Officer Caesar Goodson (45) a 16-year veteran of the force who is black, was the driver of the van. Goodson, Mosby said, also failed to buckle Gray with a seatbelt. It was because Gray was handcuffed and shackled by his feet but not belted in that he suffered a "critical neck injury," Mosby said.
Officer William Porter (25) also joined the force in 2012. He met up with the van after Goodson called dispatchers and asked for an officer to come check on Gray. Mosby said Porter, who is black, neglected, along with Goodson, to respond to Gray's plea for medical assistance.
The van was eventually met by Sgt. Alicia White (30) an African-American officer who joined the force in 2010.
Mosby said White spoke to Gray, but “did nothing further” when he did not respond, even though she knew he had requested a medic.
The allegations of inattention stood in stark contrast to the description of White provided Friday by her friend, Dana Neal, a nondenominational minister. "She wanted to be a police officer because she is a Christian and wants to be a good role model for young black women," said Neal, who attended White's promotion ceremony. "And she wanted to be that good cop in the community and bridge the gap between the police and the neighborhoods."
When Nero joined the Baltimore Police Department, it was no surprise to those who knew him. His father said Nero had joined the Washington Township Fire Department in Gloucester County, New Jersey, as a volunteer while he was still a high school student.
Nero took great pride in patrolling some of Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods, his father said. That pride was evident, when he joined his son on a ride-along in March, he said, although the father came away shocked by how old and run-down the officers’ equipment seemed to be.
Nero is married with a 1-year-old daughter, his father said, adding that he is warm and personable, and has talked about running for office. On Saturday, his father said, that dream seemed out of reach.
“Myself and my family really believe he’ll be exonerated, but in the meantime, he’ll have to go through hell to do so,” he said. “It’ll probably destroy his life, his career and his motivation to help other people.”
Michael Davey, a lawyer whose firm is representing Rice and who said he was speaking on behalf of all six officers, said none of them had done anything wrong.
He described Rice as a man who had “dedicated his life to serving the public.”
After announcing the charges on the steps of Baltimore’s neoclassical War Memorial building, Mosby stressed that the charges should not be viewed as a criticism of the entire department. She noted that both her mother and father had been police officers.
“To the rank-and-file officers of the Baltimore Police Department, please know that these accusations of these six officers are not an indictment on the entire force,” she said.
But an official in Baltimore’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 expressed outrage over the charges, saying Mosby has a striking conflict of interest.
“The union believes it is political,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the case.
“It is a witch hunt.”
Referring to the protests of the past week, some of which turned violent, the official further stated: “They are trying to buy peace here.”
The union official said it was "very problematic" that William Murphy, the lawyer representing the Gray family, has a direct political link to Mosby.
Murphy served on Mosby’s transition team for her current job and donated several thousand dollars to her campaign for state attorney in Baltimore.
The union official also pointed out that Mosby's husband, Nick Mosby, is a member of the Baltimore City Council who sits on the Public Safety Committee. The official said that the union views the City Council and the mayor as not supportive enough of the police and that they have backed changes to the police and fire pension systems that union officials oppose.
New York Times