The new report in The Appeal shows the amount of omitted information, and raises questions about why the state chose to not investigate further when building their case.

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Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the real news. I’m Kim Brown. April 19th, 2015 is the day that 25 year old Freddie Gray died from severe spinal cord injuries he sustained while in police custody. Video of his arrest went viral, all around the world, and his screams of pain were heard by all who saw it. In the days that followed, decades of pent up rage and frustration against Baltimore city institutions erupted in the streets of Freddie Gray’s hometown, and the nation witnessed the militarized police response to quell the uprising. Now, five years on, many would say not much has changed in Baltimore, but new information has been uncovered about Freddie Gray’s murder and the circumstances that led up to it. And joining us today to discuss this are journalist Justine Barron and Amelia McDonell-Parry.
Justine co-investigated the death of Freddie Gray for the Undisclosed podcast in 2017, and has since written several deep dive investigations into Baltimore policing, and the death of detective Sean Suiter.

Amelia is a journalist who co-hosted the Undisclosed series, on the death of Freddie Gray, as well as the followup podcast, about the persecution of Keith Davis Jr., the first person shot by Baltimore police after Freddie’s death. She’s pursuing a second career as a defense investigator.

Ladies, thank you so much for joining us.

Justine Barron: Thank you.

Amelia McDonell…: Thank you for having us.

Justine Barron: We appreciate it.

Speaker 1: Thank you so much for being here. The piece that you co-authored in theappeal.org is titled Freddie Gray, Five Years Later. And it’s a really hard piece to get through, because there’s so much information that you revealed that the general public did not know at the time of Freddie Gray’s death, in the weeks that followed. So, talk to us about what it is that you originally discovered, between the witness statements and the medical examiners report you had the opportunity to review.

Justine Barron: Thank you. Sure. Should I?

Amelia McDonell…: [crosstalk 00:02:08].

Justine Barron: All right.

Speaker 1: Yes.

Justine Barron: So, Amelia and I started investigating this case three years ago, four years ago actually, we began the investigative process. And, back then, we didn’t have all of the files. And we didn’t have, basically, we knew what the public knew. That he was arrested at Gilmor Homes on the corner of Presbury and Mount, that he was restrained forcefully, as you see on Kevin Moore’s famous video. And that he was screaming a lot, dragging his legs, and in evident distress.

Beyond that, we had heard about a six stop journey, but when you started to tear apart the details, they didn’t quite make sense. So the new files, what we uncovered in the last few months, they basically confirm what we had previously learned from on the street interviews with witnesses, put together with a close analysis of the autopsy and other medical evidence. Put together, with the story told by police and the various files that we did receive during the podcast that created a picture of coverup happening, after stop two.

But Amelia was really, sorry, but Amelia was really responsible for, three years ago, for putting together that stop two was significant, and that that was probably where Freddie sustained his injuries. What we have recently acquired, through sources, is evidence that not only did police know this, but prosecutors knew it. They may not have known exactly that, that’s when he was fatally injured, but they knew that a ton of witnesses had told them that he was thrown head first, into the van, at stop two. And then they told the public that those witnesses didn’t exist. So, I’m going to give it to Amelia, to talk about her process in putting together, how she figured out, that this was probably the cause of his death three years ago.

Amelia McDonell…: So when, one of the things that stuck out to me as I was reviewing all the trial audio from the various officer’s trials was, the fact that the medical examiner’s conclusion about this being a homicide and where he likely sustained his injury, which according to her, was somehow in the van during the sort of ride, after stop two. But that had been informed, not just by the physical autopsy and the medical evidence, but also by the statements that were given to her by the prosecutor’s office, all of which came from police officers. And those statements relevant to stop two, stated that Freddie was making the transport van shake wildly, back and forth, back and forth, right before the van left that stop. Basically leading her to conclude that, before that stop, Freddie was fine physically. He was able to make the van shake, and it wasn’t until after the second stop that he must have sustained his injury.

Well, during the trials, it was very clear that they showed video surveillance footage from that stop, which only kind of caught the very top of the van. But, it was not shaking, at any point. And so, that seemed to contradict the police officer’s statements. Then, when I was doing some canvassing down near Gilmor Homes, knocking on people’s doors, asking them what they saw that day, I met a woman named

Jacqueline Jackson. Who told me that she was standing in her kitchen that morning, which faces North Mount street, and she saw the van round the corner after arresting him, and pull down at the end of the corner. So, basically a block from where Freddie was arrested.
They pulled him out, they shackled his feet and then she said she watched as the officers picked him up, while he’s shackled and bound, and threw him headfirst into the back of the transport van. A transport van that had, was a split one, so it was two sides to it. So it’s a very, very narrow little area in which you could, I mean, to throw somebody into that space, you’d have to have perfect aim not to hurt them.
She heard his head hit the metal, loud, and then she said after that, he went completely silent. When she told me the story, it was crazy to me, because it seems so evident that, that could have been the kind of injury, the kind of thing that could have caused the injury he had, which was very specific. He had a jump [fossae 00:06:47]-fracture. So people, when they talk about this, they use things like, phrases like broken neck. But that can mean a lot of things. In Freddie’s case, one of the vertebrae in his neck jumped over the other one, and it affected the spinal cord. And specifically, the part of the spinal cord that relates to the diaphragm. So ultimately, in his journey after that, he wasn’t getting oxygen into his brain. And that’s ultimately kind of what leads to death.

But it seemed very clear to me that this could have been the spot where he sustained this injury, this diving accident sort of injury, was by being thrown head first with his head like this. Not able to stop, or brace himself, at all. And that the other evidence, a video by a friend of his, Brandon, who shot film from that stop showing Freddie motionless on the ground, seem to support this theory that was now developing for me, that he had been injured at that stop. And as Justine was saying, what we recently uncovered was, tons of additional witness statements from citizens, reporting the exact same thing that Jacqueline Jackson had told us.

Justine Barron: And they had started reporting it, on day one. So we, over the last few years, we have picked up here and there. “Oh, this witness also confirmed that he was thrown head first.” [inaudible 00:08:16] say that they sort of knew that this witness said this. What we didn’t know, until recently, was that witnesses were telling police this from day one. Three witnesses on day one, another witness on day two, several more later in the month. So when you, and not just telling police investigators. Telling the State’s Attorney’s own investigators. So, one of the problems with the Freddie Gray case was that media was not considering witnesses to be necessarily [inaudible 00:08:50]. On balance, some reporters were, but on balance, media wasn’t taking the eye witness stories, people who were there, as seriously as they were official accounts. And part of that is because the officials were saying, those witnesses didn’t exist.

Also, the witnesses had a lot of different stories about the arrest, stop one. That he was tased there, that he was tased at stop two, that he was thrown head first, that he was dragged. That a knee was in his back. It was so much, that we actually believe did happen to him, because there is physical evidence on his body and because the witness statements do align, but there was so much that media got a bit confused, perhaps. And didn’t really put it together, and officials were telling them it wasn’t true, and then suddenly the day after Freddie Gray died, literally the day after… The morning after he died, the autopsy was barely started, city leaders from the mayor to the police commissioner, deputy head of the Fraternal Order of Police, and in Mosby’s office, the State’s Attorney’s office all came out with the same story. It happened in the van.

So that kind of directed media away from the witnesses. And so, our process has been a witness reclamation process, if you will. And then, the recent discovery, and in some ways we haven’t been heard because we were siding with the community over what we were told was official medical evidence.

Amelia McDonell…: Right.

Justine Barron: But now we know that the police and prosecutors had it, this whole time.

Amelia McDonell…: Right.

Speaker 1: Well Justine and Amelia, I will say you guys are being extremely gracious and generous with the Baltimore local media because many-

Justine Barron: That’s a first.

Amelia McDonell…: Right. The first time somebody has said that about us?

Justine Barron: Sure.

Amelia McDonell…: [crosstalk 00:10:32].

Speaker 1: Well, it’s because, a lot of people who are longtime residents of the city complain that the local media is way too chummy with the police. They are much more concerned about having access to the police, and to the city leadership, than sometimes reporting the truth. And what you guys found is that, not only were a lot of the witnesses to the police officer’s assault on Freddie Gray in public, on the street, these statements were corroborated by many others. But it seems as though there was just this disbelief about what witnesses were saying. And that’s something that city residents have long complained about, when it comes to Baltimore city cops.
But what I wanted to ask was something about the medical examiner’s report that you discovered because, as witnesses said, Freddie Gray had been tased a number of times. And this was not confirmed by police, at all, and there was no explanation given as to some of what appears to be taser marks on his body. So, it would seem that he sustained some police brutality, in advance of sustaining that injury that eventually took his life. What were your thoughts, and what did you all discover, about what people said they saw, police tasing him, and then what the police came out and said, later?

Justine Barron: [crosstalk 00:11:57].

Amelia McDonell…: I know that for me, yeah. So, there were two things. I thought that the witness statements about the tasing were detailed and visceral, in terms of describing that kind of crackling sound of the electricity, when the prongs leave the taser. The screaming, from Freddie. And then, on the flip side, there was also sort of the police accounts, regarding tasing. So they were asked about whether or not they pulled out their tasers, and ever fired them. And one of the officers, Garrett Miller, he said that he, yes, he pulled out his taser. And yes, he readied it to fire but, and then as he was chasing Freddie, he yelled at him, “Taser, taser, taser,” as a warning. Every police officer I’ve ever talked to. If you look on any sort of video, “Taser, taser, taser,” is what you yell out to warn the other officers, that you are about to deploy your taser. It is not a warning, to the person that you’re chasing. Like, “Hey, if you don’t stop, I’m going to tase you.” No. It’s… So the idea, to me, that he didn’t tase Freddie always seemed ridiculous to me, based on both of those things.

And then, upon looking at pictures of Freddie in the hospital that very day, and having done a lot of research into the two different types of ways to use a taser, you can stun or you can actually deploy the prongs. And looking closely at what those marks look like, and it seemed to me that he had the two parallel paired little dots, from the prongs going into his leg, right below his knee. I can’t, look, I can’t say for sure. But all of that combined, coupled with my utter distrust of what the police department would say about that, added up to feeling fairly confident that he was tased. Yes.

Justine Barron: I think there’s some more confirmation that Freddie Gray was tased. Witnesses describe him sort of silent and motionless, before he gets thrown into the van. And also, his screams. And if you watch a lot of videos of people getting tased, they often let out screams quite like what Freddie was letting out, because there was sort of no other explanation for the screams. And then, the fact that he was silent before he was thrown in, just after witnesses saw him tased is further, I think, confirmation that something knocked him out.
The new evidence we got, Kevin Moore. The first person to go to police, who shot the video at stop one, he tells them he saw the prongs in his leg. And he’s pointing at his knee at exactly the same place that Amelia found those two dots. So that [crosstalk 00:14:27]-

Amelia McDonell…: And mind you, when I found those two dots, I had not seen this video interview of Kevin Moore. So these are years apart, me noticing those dots and us, finally getting video of his interview.

Justine Barron: Yeah. It has been sort of validating and horrifying, also. And then one other thing, the police department kept pointing to the fact that they have these taser, their download reports. So we couldn’t get into everything in the article, we really have books worth of information, but. The taser download reports in the files, there’s a lot of questions we have about them, including the timing. And Miller does appear to deploy his taser at one point, even though earlier that morning.

But mostly, they’re not verified. The person’s name and the taser identified is handwritten on them. So, who really knows what taser they come from? If it was really that person’s taser? There’s just, that together with the story about him banging his head, there’s so much evidence that we have, so much. That not just the officers themselves, but their buddies that were investigating them, that had worked with them.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Justine Barron: Previously, were all sort of working together. To cover up, mostly above all, tasing and throwing head first at stop two. Or, any kind of serious injury.

Speaker 1: You know, for everyone who was watching what happened in Baltimore five years ago, we were all witnessing, the police close ranks. Sort of in real time. And at the same time, witnessing State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby be frozen out of her own investigation, so to speak, because the same people she deploys from her office, to investigate misconduct or allegations of brutality of Baltimore City Police are, as you said, these guys and girls and ladies, women. They all work together, and they have each other’s back and they don’t want to see one another go down for someone, I guess that they perceive lesser, like a Freddie Gray. Who was, whatever Freddie Gray was stopped by the police for allegedly doing, it did not justify his inevitable death.

So what did you learn about Baltimore City Police? Which may not be so distinct, from other police departments across the country? But for this case, what was your takeaway from the way that Baltimore City Police coordinated the story of their officers, and from the leadership on down, about what happened to Freddie Gray? And how his death was possibly his own fault?

Justine Barron: Oh wow. Yeah. So, that’s not the first and only time that the police department has blamed a death in custody, on the person. It happened with Tyree Woodson too, which the city paper reported on. I believe it, I’ve written about it. I believe it happened with Detective Sean Suiter. So, I think that, going to either, “The person had a weapon, and was trying to kill us first,” or, “The person took their own life,” is a very sort of common trope.

In terms of the police department, I think one of the things, there were multiple investigations. The force investigation team started it. They were inexperienced, a brand new squad and over the years, they really functioned primarily as sort of a coverup operation. But then it got handed over to homicide, and they sort of had their own agenda.

Meanwhile, the State’s Attorney’s office was, they called it an investigation. They interviewed a few people, and they came up with a rough ride story. We have notes from their department indicating that they were coming up with a rough ride story, in line with the settlement offer, before the autopsy was done. So we don’t have necessarily, the view of Marilyn Mosby’s office that she tried to present, which was that she was actually taking on police. We know that the medical examiner got all of her information from the State’s Attorney’s office. So the State’s Attorney’s Office suppressed witness statements, from the medical examiner.

But to answer your question more broadly, and I hope that wasn’t too confusing, I would say one of the main things I learned was that these cover-ups are messy. They’re not, the evidence that he banged his own head and then leaking that story, then disappearing that story. It was one hatch, and then trying, they tried at one point to blame it all on the driver. And they did a search and seizure of his house. It was one kind of hatchet cover-up job, after another. It’s not like the movies.

The problem is, the media is just kind of letting it happen. They’re not seeing the holes. They’re not digging deep. They’re not noticing. When the CCTV videos camera suddenly freezes, but the time still runs, indicating something was edited out. Which Amelia reported on, in the podcast. So I would say, I would describe the coverup as messy, ongoing, with multiple different parties having different agendas. And they got away with it, because we don’t have strong media accountability, in my opinion.

Amelia McDonell…: I think also too, one of the things that I think really sets this case apart from almost any other is the fact that yes, Marilyn Mosby charged six officers. And she brought four of those cases to trial, which certainly seems to present her being at odds with the police department, and in many ways, she was. I’m sure that they did not want her to charge six officers.

At the same time, the narrative that was presented in court at those trials is, you believe not what happened as very clearly stated by these witnesses to stop two. And it was, by anybody’s account, I would say it was a weak case that went on in court. And that was their decision. And so I think the problem is, is that, this is a case where you have both the state and the defense, yes, at odds. But also in agreement on something, which is to not reveal the truth.

And when you have that kind of a situation, that’s how you could have such a sort of weak narrative go on at this trial without… And certain evidence be allowed in that, normally, you would think a defense attorney would raise a red flag. But that’s sort of the thing that I really learned from this case was that, Marilyn Mosby has certainly made a career, off of this case. She’s made a national name, for herself. And that, the reality is, not what has sort of been presented. And I think, one of the things that really reflects that is, the same investigators that investigated the Freddie Gray case, the force investigation team, the ones who she could easily blame for covering up the truth, the ones who did all this sort of sloppy police work, initially.

These are the same individuals that investigated the shooting of Keith Davis Jr., five weeks later. And that’s a case that she has prosecuted. She prosecuted him, more times than she prosecuted any of those officers combined, who killed Freddie Gray. And these are the same investigators following, actually a very different sort of MO, and it all just adds up to, to me, politics. I think that her goal was to settle the uprising, and it certainly worked.

Justine Barron: And I think actually one of the strongest pieces of evidence, in terms of the State’s Attorney, even aside from the witnesses that they suppressed at stop two, is that Lieutenant Rice’s statement, given to investigators the first day, I find it incredibly incriminatory. He’s saying Freddie is shaking the van, wildly. He saying that Freddie is banging his own head, behind closed doors which he can’t see, and he keeps repeating that Freddie is banging his own head. And he was really driving that story. And we only ever learned that, Dante Allen told police that. From the other side of the van’s partition.

But, the State’s Attorney never played Lieutenant Rice’s interview, at trial. And they played all the other interviews, where available or relevant. So they were keeping that information from the public. Lieutenant Rice was comprehensively protected, by the State’s Attorney’s office. And also when Amelia and I did our first Public Information Act request, years ago, to the State’s Attorney’s office. They gave us a bunch of transcripts. They didn’t give us Lieutenant Rice’s transcripts.

And even in court, you can hear the defense start to raise when, investigators on the stand. “What about the statement?” And the prosecutor interrupts, calls for a bench conference, and in the bench conference she says, “We’re not doing the statements, because I didn’t introduce it.” So it was really, it’s hard to believe.

Amelia McDonell…: Yeah.

Justine Barron: But it was really Marilyn Mosby’s prosecutors, that were mostly protecting Lieutenant Rice. Did they like him? I don’t know. Do they have a relationship? I don’t know. Was it more likely that, what he said really messed up their narrative, and made it look like there was more force than they had put forward? Probably. So. I hope that answers…

Speaker 1: Well. Definitely. City residents were less than happy with State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, for failing to convict anybody in the death of Freddie Gray. And I wanted to ask you both, because you’ve spoken with residents in West Baltimore since death of Freddie Gray. And I’m curious as to what their sentiments are towards Baltimore City Police, and towards the criminal justice system at large. I would assume that there is still a great deal of mistrust, there. Even since there has been a federal consent decree placed upon Baltimore City Police. But how have the attitudes changed or remained the same for city residents towards city police?

Amelia McDonell…: In my experience in talking to people, I think they, it sort of stayed the same, or if not, gotten worse. Whenever I talk to the witnesses that I keep in touch with from this case about you the gun trace task force, and task force indictments. And the reaction is always like, “Yeah, but there are way more than those guys.” They regularly, I will go visit a witness or something, and we’ll hang out. And I will hear stories of misconduct, of seeing police officers grabbing people for no reason. Just, the same type of stuff is still going on. And I think it, the experience for them was crushing, because I think all of them knew Freddie, loved him, knew he was like a jokester, liked having him around.

He was very, very well loved in that neighborhood. A lot of people saw what happened to him, and they all wanted to testify. We’re talking about, we hear so much about witness intimidation, witnesses not being willing to come forward and tell them what they see. And here was a case of tons of witnesses, and they all wanted to testify, and they were never called. And I think that was crushing for them, because I think they did believe for a while, that they were going to get justice. They were going to see these officers held accountable. And it didn’t happen. And I think that that has been crushing for them.

Justine Barron: Yeah, that’s the most heartbreaking part of the case for me, is to hear how cooperative they were, on those initial days. And then, the number of cooperative witnesses to investigators and media, has kind of steadily shrunk. And one of the challenges that Amelia and I have had is that, people were burned, not just by Mosby’s office, but by media reporters that they thought would tell their story. I know there were several stop two witnesses, who had spoken to a couple of reporters, and were asked not to share their stories with other reporters because they thought there was going to be a big exclusive? Well, those reporters went on to frame the story differently, and leave their story out.

So they sat on it, buried it, and then those witnesses got burned by the people in our profession, and that has been a huge struggle for us. We’re not talking to everybody. Some people have reached out recently, since the article, but I can’t even blame them.

Amelia McDonell…: Yeah.

Justine Barron: It’s so traumatizing, to tell the story over and over again, to be met by people who don’t believe you. And then, or, as we see with Kevin Moore, he went down that afternoon. He was like, “Listen, dude, when I tell you what I saw.” That was him, talking to the investigators. If you watch the whole interview, he felt comfortable. And he told them everything he saw, in detail. And heard. And then, they nodded. “Thank you, buddy,” shaking hands. And then, he was treated like crap. And then a few weeks later, he was arrested for no reason.

Brandon Ross was held in jail, through most of the trial, I think because he dared to show too much emotion in the first trial. And then, he was let go when the trials ended. Poor Dante Allen spoke out to media, tried to take back what he said. Because he didn’t know, he was a pawn in Freddie Gray’s murder. And then he was put in jail, through most of the trials, on a very bizarre charge from Pennsylvania. And so, that is what they got for speaking out. The young black men, in particular, who spoke out.

The older ones, were just ignored. They weren’t invited downtown to speak on the record, their interviews lasted a couple minutes. They’re sort of treated like, nothing. So, it’s horrible, it’s crushing. It’s heartbreaking. And, getting them to speak now is an uphill battle, and I honestly, sometimes I don’t even want to try that hard because I don’t want to put people through it. Because I can’t promise them, that I’m going to get them a national audience for their story either.

Amelia McDonell…: Yeah.

Speaker 1: Well without doubt, the trauma of Freddie Gray’s murder five years later, still impacts a lot of people who were there, who witnessed it. The city at large, who felt it. And then, the greater community, who have seen similar things happen to people who have been brutalized by police.

And folks, if you’re interested in finding out more information about exactly what happened to Freddie Gray, go to the theappeal.org. Justine and Amelia’s piece is there, it’s titled Freddie Gray, Five Years Later. And today we’ve been speaking Justine Barron and Amelia McDonell-Parry. They co-investigated the death of Freddie Gray and it’s available on the Undisclosed podcast. It is still available, you can subscribe to it, download it, and get the information you need to know about what happened to this 25 year old man while he was in police custody.

Ladies, I want to thank you so much for your work, and thank you so much for making time to share with us what you discovered here, on The Real News. We appreciate it.

Amelia McDonell…: Thank you for having us. Appreciate it so much.

Justine Barron: Thank you so much.

Speaker 1: And gang, thank you for watching The Real News Network.