DOJ won’t bring charges against Baltimore officers in Freddie Gray case, sources say

Kevin Rector
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — The U.S. Department of Justice will not bring charges against Baltimore police officers in connection with the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries sustained in police custody in 2015, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the department was conducting a criminal civil rights investigation into Gray’s death on April 27, 2015, the same day as Gray’s funeral and the eruption of rioting, looting and arson in Baltimore.

Lynch said at the time that the department would “continue our careful and deliberate examination of the facts in the coming days and weeks” to determine whether any officers should be charged with violating Gray’s civil rights.

Now, nearly 2 1 / 2 years later, Justice Department investigators have concluded that no charges are warranted, according to the sources.

The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

The Justice Department has declined to comment on the status of the investigation, and it was unclear Tuesday if a public announcement was planned. Officials at the FBI and the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s office referred questions to the Justice Department.

The department has made announcements after investigators declined to bring charges in other cases.

William H. “Billy” Murphy, the Gray family’s attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith declined to comment.

The end of the federal investigation without charges means no officers will be held criminally responsible for Gray’s death. According to local prosecutors, Gray died after suffering a fatal spinal cord injury in the back of a Baltimore police transport van following his arrest on the morning of April 12, 2015.

Gray’s death a week later sparked widespread protests against police brutality in Baltimore. Clashes between police and civilians spiraled out of control on the day of his funeral, erupting into rioting that caused millions of dollars in damages. The city was put under a weeklong nightly curfew.

Days after the rioting, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby filed local criminal charges against six police officers, ranging from misconduct in office and reckless endangerment to manslaughter and second-degree depraved heart murder.

All of the officers pleaded not guilty and none of them were convicted.

Three — Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., Lt. Brian Rice and Officer Edward Nero — were acquitted in bench trials before Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams. Mosby subsequently dropped the charges against Sgt. Alicia White, Officer Garrett Miller and Officer William Porter, citing the unlikely chance of a conviction with Williams scheduled to preside over their trials as well.

Porter had previously had a jury trial, which resulted in a hung jury and mistrial.

The Justice Department’s decision not to bring charges in the case was anticipated by many legal observers, particularly given Williams’ rulings at the state level, as federal civil rights cases have a higher standard for securing convictions.

To secure convictions in such cases, federal prosecutors must establish that an officer willfully violated a person’s civil rights, which experts said is not an easy task.

When Mosby dropped the state charges against the remaining officers in July 2016, the DOJ leaders in the Obama administration issued a statement saying the agency had been “monitoring the state’s investigation and trials” along with the FBI and the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s office. The statement said the DOJ would continue its “independent review of this matter, assess all available materials and determine what actions are appropriate, given the strict burdens and requirements imposed by applicable federal civil rights laws.”

Separate from the criminal cases, two outside police agencies — in Montgomery and Howard counties — conducted an internal review of the officers’ actions. That review led to five of the officers being charged with violating internal Baltimore Police policies.

Those five all face internal disciplinary trials this fall and winter. Three — Goodson, Rice and White — face termination from the force, while Miller and Nero face five days suspension without pay. Porter was not charged with violating any policies.

Gray’s death also caused city officials to invite the Justice Department into Baltimore to conduct a broader investigation into the police department. In August 2016, the Justice Department released a scathing report that found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing within the department, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.

The Justice Department and Baltimore subsequently entered into a consent decree mandating sweeping reforms to the police department. That agreement was approved in federal court, and the two parties are in the process of selecting a federal monitor to oversee the reforms.