TRNN Investigative journalist Stephen Janis discusses the investigations into Freddie Gray’s death and responds to comments made by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux coming to you from our Baltimore studio. Real News viewers, you know we’ve been on top of this story, this developing story here in Baltimore. And one of our reporters that has really been on the ground and trying to get you the best information possible is Stephen Janis. Stephen joins us in studio right now. He’s investigative reporter with us here at The Real News. STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, TRNN: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. DESVARIEUX: So Stephen, let’s just talk about some of the developments that have happened recently. Just brief us, what are some things people should be paying attention to? JANIS: Well, I think one of the biggest–there are a couple developments. The police department this morning reported that there was a fourth stop in the van. When Mr. Gray was put in the van, that there’s a fourth stop that hasn’t been released to the public. In other words the van that picked him up after he was arrested, after he supposedly was injured, which drove him around until–before he got medical treatment, supposedly took what was a fourth, previously undisclosed stop that they caught on video. However, there’s not much information about what happened in that stop or any details that would I think change the nature of the investigation. That’s number one. And they also announced that they turned over all their findings to the State’s Attorney’s office. So that means that now the case is out of the hands of police and into the hands of prosecutors who ultimately will have the final decision or say in what happens. DESVARIEUX: What has the State Attorney’s office said? JANIS: Well, that’s where it gets interesting. Because the State’s Attorney’s office released a very terse statement shortly after the police made this announcement saying, you know, there’s nothing new in what the police have turned over to us. We are doing an independent investigation, and we have our own facts. Now, that’s significant. Because usually the State’s Attorney’s office and the police department work very closely on these kind of cases. They don’t want to show any sort of division. But I think here in this message you see a very strong message that, you know, we are not letting the police handle this. We don’t trust the police, I think, to a certain extent. I mean, I think that’s what they’re saying. I think they’re basically saying, you know, yeah. We’ve seen this, we know what you guys have, don’t try to make it into some big deal that you’ve given us new facts or something, new information that we have to parse. In general, they’re, I think they’re just saying, we’re going to be completely independent and we don’t want anything to do with you. I mean, and you know, generally I would say when the police and the State’s Attorney’s office announce findings in an investigation or even progress in investigation, they’ll appear together. You’ll see, you know, the previous–the predecessor to Marilyn Mosby, Gregg Bernstein would always appear with Batts in these kind of things. Well, they weren’t together this time. And they issued very separate statements. And it appears to me there’s a separate track going on in terms of the investigation, which is extremely significant. Because yesterday we also reported on a secret meeting–I wouldn’t say secret, a closed-door meeting at City Hall, that occurred right when the protesters were here, where Commissioner Anthony Batts met with the local legislative caucus delegates and told them that there is no evidence of any new–no new evidence of use of force injuries on Mr. Gray’s body that they have found in the investigation. So there is a spectrum of stuff going on. And I think, you know, right now you–we, right now we are seeing really a split between the police department and the State’s Attorney’s office. And I know from people I spoke to who were in that meeting with the Commissioner, it was very–emotions were frayed. People were angry. And I think that, you know, I think part of that, the result of that is you’re seeing the State’s Attorney make–putting distance between the police department. I mean, that’s literal distance. And that’s significant because really, when it comes to these kind of cases, they usually close ranks. DESVARIEUX: We’re also waiting on this autopsy report. Have you heard anything from the Medical Examiner’s Office? JANIS: Well as far as I know the medical examiner has not yet released the autopsy results, and I don’t think you’ll be getting them. Because generally what happens in Maryland is that as long as something is still under investigation they will not release the autopsy results. And I know the Mayor and other people have asked for them to be released, but right now, no. We will not see anything. I actually contacted the Medical Examiner’s Office today to ask for Dr. Fowler to come in and further comment. They are not giving interviews, and they have shut down. I mean, they’re not talking to anybody. So really–and that is extremely significant. You know, in past cases–like, I know we have discussed the case of Tyrone West, who died in police custody after he was beaten for about 20 minutes. That case was ruled undetermined. If the medical examiner comes back with a ruling of let’s say, undetermined, or accident, it makes it very much harder for the prosecutors to levy charges of murder or homicide, or–not homicide, but murder or manslaughter. So the medical examiner is one of the most, plays one of the most significant roles in this case of anybody. I mean, a ruling of accident makes–it means that when the prosecutors go into court, they’re going to be battling the medical examiner. Because the medical examiner said, well, this was accidental. Or if the medical examiner even–one of the most common rulings that he uses, he’s used in the past, is undetermined. Where it’s basically unclassified. So the prosecutor has nothing to work with from there. DESVARIEUX: Stephen, hold on one second. We’re actually getting news that the Mayor is holding a press conference right now. Let’s take a look at what she has to say.
MAYOR STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE: Believe you me, we will get justice. And we’re going to do it because we’re going to work together. Because if, with the nation watching, three black women at three different levels can’t get justice and healing for this community, you tell me where we’re going to get it in our country. So I want to thank the Department of Justice for coming here today. Community Relations Service. Independent, they’re not–I know, I can’t remember what you told me, but I know you’re not–you don’t prosecute, and you don’t do something else. But what you do is stand in the middle and make sure the process is right and the communities are able to heal while we seek justice. I want to thank you for being here. They are going to discuss at some point some training of community marshals. Because what we saw in Baltimore were people standing up against the rioters. Against the people who were looting and stealing. Those people I want to thank. And those people we want to make sure they get more resources. So I want to thank the Department of Justice for doing that. So I want to–I want to thank you for your indulgence. I know I probably talked longer than you intended me to. But I want to thank you all and commit to working and doing everything in my power to help our city reach the greatness that I know in my heart that we are capable of. Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: So that was Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and she was at the National Action Network, that’s Al Sharpton’s organization for those of you who don’t know. We just heard sort of the tail end of that. But what do you think of some of these statements as she’s–you’ve just heard? JANIS: Well you know, I think it’s a big shift in how the Mayor is handling this in terms of just presentation. In terms of optics. I mean, she prior to this had been pretty–usually the Mayor is very sort of steely, sort of very reserved. Doesn’t show much emotion, is very sort of–I don’t want to say antiseptic, but maybe. And this, this–what she just said was extremely, it seems there’s, emotion is creeping back into what she’s saying. And also it seems like she’s trying to create some sort of empathetic connection to the community. Saying we will get justice. I mean, she’s been saying mostly for the past week or so, you know, we have to take our time. We, you know, we want to get it right. Sort of the same mantra that has been in the past. You know, everyone calm down. Now it seems like she’s sort of trying to reach some sort of emotive connection to the people on the streets and say, well, we need justice. I mean, I didn’t hear all of it. But that’s very, a different take for the Mayor when she usually handles these kind of crises. She tends to be very withdrawn and sort of standoffish. But in this case she seemed like she’s really trying to put herself into the emotional mix and maybe that’s a good strategy. DESVARIEUX: Do you feel like she’s responding to the community? Because I want to get to what the community response has been since some of these developments have come out. JANIS: Right. Well I mean, I think she realizes, and I think everybody in Baltimore realizes, that if you don’t create some connection to the community this could get worse or–you know, you’re really going to be isolated. I mean, she’s looking at a protest that is kind of city-wide. Expanding. You know, includes all community groups now. We had students yesterday. Activists. I think she realizes that if she doesn’t put herself in the fray and stop–you know, standing back in City Hall behind sort of the armed guards, that she’s going to look out of touch and disconnected. And I mean, that–this is her moment. I mean, this is the moment of the city, we’re on a national stage and you have a Mayor saying over again, well, we just want to get it right, but never really connecting. And of course you had the controversy over using the word thugs, which became a national controversy. Both her and now yesterday, two days ago, Jack Young, Council President Jack Young who also used the term, came and apologized and said very explicitly, our children are not thugs. Well, the Mayor apologized after him. So it kind of seemed like she was leading from behind. And that is sometimes what people have accused the Mayor of doing, which is leading from behind. Which is not getting out in front of an issue, and not really, you know, jumping into the fray. I mean, she hasn’t really been out in the streets, hasn’t visit–I mean, even former mayor Martin O’Malley visited North Avenue, and I don’t think she’s done that yet. So I think, you know, I think she might be responding to the pressure of saying, you know, you’re really dealing with something that is massive. Is unprecedented. And if you don’t respond to it with some sort of feeling people are going to think you don’t care. DESVARIEUX: And Stephen, aren’t there some massive protests supposed to be held tomorrow and even Saturday, can we talk a little bit about that? JANIS: Yeah, from what I’ve–now, this is all–you know, of course this comes through social media and you know, different emails. But there’s a protest supposedly today at 4:30, and maybe a possible sit-in with some high school students later at 7:00. There’s supposed to be a protest at Bel Air High School, which is out in the county. And then the 300 Men March, which has been–the 300 Men March has been a big movement in the city anti-violence movement to enlist men to fight violence in the city. They’re planning something tomorrow. And then Saturday you have the National Call for Action with, you know, Al Sharpton I believe going to, from Baltimore to D.C. So that’s a thing—. DESVARIEUX: Yes. But it’s being organized by Baltimore organizers, we should say that. JANIS: It is, okay. Right, sorry. But the point is–and there’s one other one I can’t recall off the top of my head. But there’s at least five or six things planned within the next three days. I mean, this is not going to stop. And I think a lot of it can key off the Mayor. I mean, she’s the leader of the city, she has to–I think those communities especially that we visited where Freddie Gray lived, feel isolated. They feel like no one cares, that no one really gives–that the policing and the things that they’ve experienced and stuff are–no one cares about their wounds. So I think the Mayor has to start reaching out if she’s going to effectively lead the city out of this. DESVARIEUX: As you said, this is not going to stop, and we’re not going to stop covering this here at The Real News. Stephen Janis, investigative reporter for The Real News, thank you so much for being with us. JANIS: Thank you for having me, appreciate it. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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