The Washington Post reports that a prisoner who was in the police van with Freddie Gray says he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed he “was intentionally trying to injure himself.” According to the Post, the prisoner’s statement is contained in an affidavit that’s part of an application by the police for search warrant seeking the seizure of the uniform worn by one of the officers involved in Gray’s arrest or transport.
I can’t tell for sure from the Post’s report whether the prisoner executed the affidavit or whether the affidavit is from a police officer who relates what the prisoner allegedly told him. It looks like the Post is saying it’s the latter.
It seems counter-intuitive to suppose that Gray inflicted serious bodily injury on himself. However, without knowing Gray’s state of mind at the time — e.g., was he high on drugs; was he trying to set up a claim of police brutality — it’s impossible to evaluate the plausibility of the perception that this is what happened.
In any event, if Gray’s fellow prisoner does indeed say he heard Gray banging against the walls and that Gray seemed to be trying intentionally to injure himself, this will cast doubt on claims that police mistreatment caused Gray to sustain injuries while he was in the van. Such evidence will also make it difficult to attribute Gray’s death to the police.
The Post says that “video shot by several bystanders to Gray’s arrest shows two officers on top of Gray, their knees in his back, and then dragging his seemingly limp body to the van as he cried out.” Thus, some of his injuries may be due to what happened during the arrest, while others may be due to what happened in the van.
There is also the police commissioner’s statement that officers violated policy by failing properly to restrain Gray via a seat belt while he was in the van. However, the police union is pushing back on this assertion.
The union president says that the policy mandating seat belts wasn’t emailed to officers until three days before Gray was arrested. Moreover, it was emailed as part of a package of five policy changes.
Officers should, of course, read about all policy changes. But human nature being what is, the union president’s statement that officers tend not to do so is plausible. It would be one thing if the officers who dealt with Gray had violated a longstanding, widely known policy on seat belts. It’s another if, as seems to be the case, the policy was brand new and had only just been communicated by email as part of package of policy changes.
In any event, the Post’s report suggests that the facts surrounding Gray’s unfortunate death may not be as straightforward as those who have rushed to condemn the police assert them to be. The best approach remains what it has been all along — wait for the facts before forming a judgment.