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How did Freddie Gray end up with a severed spinal cord and a crushed larynx

The Baltimore Police Department is investigating what happened to Freddie Gray who died from a severed spinal cord and a crushed larynx after allegedly running away from three police officers on bicycles who chased and tackled him. The New York Times reports,

The official in charge of the investigation, Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis, said investigators were working to piece together all of the events on the day of the arrest, including what happened in the van while Mr. Gray was being taken to the police station.

Gaps remain in the timeline involving three stops made by the van, Mr. Davis said, in particular the last one, when Mr. Gray had to be picked up off the floor of the van and put in a seat.

At the first two stops, Mr. Gray appeared to be able to move and talk, Mr. Batts said, but at the third, he could do neither. But it still remains unclear, Mr. Batts said, exactly when Mr. Gray was injured.

Investigators expected to submit their preliminary findings to the state’s attorney of Baltimore next Friday.


Six police officers have been placed on administrative leave.

Tensions are running high in Baltimore with daily protests that have remained peaceful.

One thing is clear. Mr. Gray did not break his spinal cord or crush his larynx. That happened while he was in custody.

One possibility is a “rough ride.” That happens when a suspect is handcuffed with his hands behind his back and placed in the back of a police van without a seatbelt. The driver then accelerates to a high rate of speed and throws in a few sharp swerves, turns and quick stops.

10 years ago, Dondi Johnson died from a severed spinal cord. The Daily Beast reports,

In the earlier spinal injury death, 42-year-old Dondi Johnson was arrested for public urination and loaded into a police van similar to the one that would later be used to transport Gray.

“Mr. Johnson got into the back of the van without assistance,” court papers say. “He obeyed the officers’ commands and did not threaten any of the officers or act violently.”

Johnson gave no sign that he was in physical distress when he was locked in the van with his hands cuffed behind his back. Police Officer Nicole Leake would later testify that she failed to put him in a seatbelt as required by Department General Order K-14 because the nature of the charge against him suggested he had a full bladder.

Leake would deny that she gave him what is known in Baltimore as a “rough ride,” where the van is driven in such a fashion as to jounce and jangle the prisoners. She did estimate that she reached a nearby police station in less than half the time it would have taken at the speed limit.

“When she arrived at the District and opened the back door of the van, Mr. Johnson was lying on the floor of the van and could not move,” court papers say.


What do you think?


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Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.