Freddie Gray Supporters Wary of Maryland Medical Examiner

Rulings in past on use of force cases seen as impediment to efforts to hold police accountable

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Story Transcript

STEPHEN JANIS, PRODUCER, TRNN: Amid continuing protests across the city of Baltimore new developments in the investigation of the death of Freddie Gray in police custody revealed tension between the police department and the city’s top prosecutor, while bringing another critical institution that may well have much to say about what happens in the case into the limelight.

After Police Commissioner Anthony Batts announced he had turned over the department’s findings to the city’s State’s Attorney’s office, top prosecutor Marilyn Mosby in a written statement appeared to distance herself from the agency whose heavy-handed policing are at the root of the controversy that has engulfed the city since Gray died a week after his arrest, after his spine was severed. The statement said there was nothing new in the findings about how Gray died, or the actions of the six officers under investigation, and that her office would rely on their own probe to adjudicate the case.

But as the public digest what appeared to be conflict between two key players in the investigation of Gray’s death another pivotal agency which has so far received little attention surfaced amid even more controversy.

Earlier in the day, Washington D.C. television station WJLA reported that in a preliminary report from the Medical Examiner’s Office on the autopsy indicated Gray’s injuries happened in the van after his arrest, and may have been self-inflicted. The report contradicts eyewitnesses who saw Gray before he was carted away in handcuffs.

WITNESS TO FREDDIE GRAY’S ARREST: The man wasn’t responding. They took him by his pants, and he was dragging. I asked them to call the ambulance. They told me to mind my business. I told them it is my business.

JANIS: But this is not the first time the Maryland State Medical Examiner has played a controversial role in a case involving use of force by police. Tyrone West died after being beaten while in police custody in 2013. Despite multiple injuries sustained during his encounter with police, the ME’s office ruled his death what’s known as undetermined, meaning the medical examiner’s office could not conclude if West’s death was an accident, a homicide, suicide, or from natural causes.

It’s a ruling his family believe hurt their efforts to hold police accountable for his death.

TAWANDA JONES, SISTER OF TYRONE WEST: As if killing him wasn’t enough. They want to spit in your face and dehumanize–I’m tired of them dehumanizing our people.

JANIS: In fact, the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office rules more deaths undetermined than almost any state agency in the country. According to documents revealed by The Real News, over the past ten years the medical examiner has ruled over 2,348 deaths undetermined in Baltimore alone, a rate of roughly 10 percent of all deaths in the city, nearly double the average of comparable municipalities across the country.

We asked the Chief Medical Examiner Dr. David Fowler for comment, but he declined. In the past he has attributed most undetermined deaths to the high number of drug overdoses in Baltimore.

A. DWIGHT PETTIT, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: I don’t have much faith in the Medical Examiner’s Office.

JANIS: Still, civil rights attorney A. Dwight Pettit, who is currently battling the Medical Examiner’s Office over the ruling on West’s death in court, says the public has a right to question the information coming out of an agency that has left so many deaths of Baltimore residents, including West’s, in limbo.

PETTIT: When they do these autopsies, people are not aware, the police department’s sitting right in the autopsy room. They have four, five, six, seven police officers sitting there right while the doctor’s doing this. And so many cases you have that pervasive intimidation again, even in the Medical Examiner’s office. So I don’t have much confidence in them.

JANIS: Reporting from Baltimore, Stephen Janis for The Real News Network.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.