Baltimore Police Under Scrutiny 04/24 06:29
BALTIMORE (AP) -- People in Baltimore and other cities accuse police of
sometimes giving prisoners an extra-rough "nickel ride" --- a reference to
amusement rides that once cost a nickel. Now, the safety of people in
Baltimore's police vans is under scrutiny because of a past death and a new
fatal injury, one that came after police failed to put a seat belt on a
One of those, Dondi Johnson, died of a fractured spine in 2005 two weeks
after he was arrested for urinating in a public street and transported by van.
Johnson's family won a $7.4 million judgment that was reduced to $200,000, the
legal cap for such cases. Family lawyer Kerry D. Staton said Johnson was seated
alone in the van with his hands cuffed behind him and no seat belt to restrain
It is police policy that all arrestees must be buckled in during transport.
The policy, updated just nine days before Freddie Gray was injured, states "all
passengers, regardless of age and location, shall be restrained by seat belts
or other authorized restraining devices."
An attorney representing one of the six officers involved in Gray's arrest
said it can sometimes be difficult, or even dangerous, for officers to belt
prisoners if they're agitated.
"It is not always possible or safe for officers to enter the rear of those
transport vans that are very small, and this one was very small."
But Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said Thursday that here are no
circumstances under which a prisoner should not be wearing a seatbelt during
transport and "that's part of our investigation.
"Much like any other vehicle, you seatbelt people in and it's our
responsibility to make sure people are safely transported," Batts said,
"especially if their hands are behind their back."
Gray fled on foot and was captured on April 12 after an officer "made eye
contact" with him outside a public housing complex, police said. Videos show
Gray screaming on the ground before being dragged, his legs limp, into a police
transport van. Witnesses said he was crying out in pain.
Authorities say they do not know how, or exactly when, Gray suffered the
Batts said another man who was in the van during the tail end of Gray's ride
told investigators that Gray was "was still moving around, that he was kicking
and making noises" up until the van arrived at the station. Batts said the man
also said the driver did not speed, make sudden stops of "drive erratically."
But Batts was careful to say that the investigation includes "everything the
officers did that day."
On Thursday protesters briefly scuffled with police, shouting at them and
throwing objects. Police said on their Twitter feed that at least two people
were taken into custody for disorderly conduct and destruction of property. The
protesters also surrounded a police transport van, similar to the one Gray was
put in after he was arrested. Outside of the Western District station house
protesters gathered peacefully, while more than 50 officers manned barricades.
More protests are planned for the weekend. On Saturday demonstrators are
expected to gather at both City Hall and the site of Gray's arrest in
Baltimore's Sandtown neighborhood.