Medical Examiner: Police Brushed Aside Requests for Evidence in Gray Case
On the first day of testimony during the trial of Lt. Brian Rice, the fourth officer to be tried in the death of Freddie Gray, state medical examiner Carol Allan revealed how she battled to complete the investigation, which ultimately lead her to rule Gray’s death a homicide
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network here in Baltimore City, Maryland. We’re standing outside the Mitchell Courthouse, where we just were listening to the opening arguments in the trial against Lt. Brian Rice, one of the six officers charged with the in-custody death of Freddie Gray. I’m here with Stephen Janis to talk about one of those opening arguments.
So, can you tell me what we saw in the courtroom today?
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Well, I think one of the interesting things besides the opening arguments, which were pretty much standard fare for this case, about what was at stake, was the testimony of the medical examiner Dr. Allan.
GRAHAM: Dr. Carol Allan, yes.
JANIS: Dr. Carol Allan. Which was, to me, something like revelatory. Because there were certain aspects of the narrative of this trial that have been, throughout the media, saying somehow that her investigation was untoward, that she changed her opinion, or that somehow she wasn’t diligent.
GRAHAM: She seemed very solid in her opinion.
JANIS: Which we found out, we listened, that the police department withheld evidence that she requested. Example one: they would not let her see the actual van. They would not let her see the actual van. She had asked to see the van where Freddie Gray died as part of her investigation.
And one thing people have to understand–just a little digression, here–medical examiners conduct their own separate investigation to come up with a manner of death. There are four manners of death: homicide, suicide, natural causes, and accident. So it’s their job to make this determination. It’s not a legal determination.
GRAHAM: Right. And it’s based on empirical evidence, right?
JANIS: Based on empirical evidence. So it’s really their job. They’re like a separate investigation. She could have ruled this as an accident. She could have ruled a homicide. In the case of the homicide, a death admission is the death at the hands of another. So she’s charged with doing this. This is her responsibility, legally. So when she asks for evidence, it’s just as important as a police officer or prosecutor.
So she asked the police department for two pieces of evidence. She wanted to see the actual van. They did not provide her. They showed her another van.
GRAHAM: A comparable van.
JANIS: A comparable van. But not the exact van. She asked for the statements of the five officers, you know, or six officers, that are charged. They did not provide them. Those actual statements came four days later from the prosecutor. Now, I don’t see how any person could look at that other than conclude that they were trying to hamper her investigation. Because later on when she testified, she talked about the importance of the officers’ statements in determining when Freddie Gray died.
GRAHAM: And she was questioned about including information from the officers’ statements in her opinion. The defense gave her a very difficult time about that.
JANIS: If you listen to the defense argument, their basic argument is some time, just before they were at the station, Freddie Gray sustained this injury. And there is no indication beforehand that the injury occurred. The medical examiner says she believes he was fatally injured, a fatal injury, which was the injury to the spinal column, C4 and C5, happened before stop 4. That is her–. And the only evidence she has to work with are the statements of the police officers who are actually accused.
So what you can see here is why it’s so difficult to prosecute these kind of cases, and why in Baltimore and other places police officers rarely are convicted. I mean, it’s not going to be easy to make a conviction.
GRAHAM: Doesn’t the LEOBR allow police officers more than ample amount of time to essentially get their story straight?
JANIS: Yeah, they have ten days. And police officers, like everybody else, have a right to not self-incriminate themselves. So they have a right to actually not say anything. But I think this case shows how difficult it is, because the only real witnesses to what happened were the people ultimately end up being held responsible.
GRAHAM: It’s difficult to ask the witnesses, essentially, to incriminate themselves, which is what’s happening in this case.
JANIS: And especially, you know, the witnesses are backed by an entire organization of 3,000 police officers. The largest institution in Baltimore with a $500 million budget that basically controls the political process. So you know, you can see the dilemma that she was facing as a medical examiner. She’s pretty much on herself–.
And then she refers to a meeting on April 28 with the entirety of the command staff of the police department, and the prosecutor. So this woman by herself over the medical examiner’s office is facing some pretty strong, I think, pressure at that point to rule one way or another. But the idea, or the narrative that has been touted by the mainstream media, that somehow she came to some foregone conclusion, or a conclusion which she changed her mind–.
GRAHAM: Or that she waffled, essentially, on what her opinion was.
JANIS: Or she had at any time considered an accident is absolutely spurious. It absolutely distracts from the evidence. And also, the fact that she was not given the evidence she wanted, one can understand why she might have waffled.
GRAHAM: Now, Dr. Carol Allan suggested that him hunching–when he tried to bring himself to a standing position in order to prevent–since he wasn’t seatbelted in, to prevent further injury, that’s when someone could have taken a wide turn, could have accelerated or decelerated, and caused further injury. But you mentioned something in particular, which a lot of people believe, that the injury occurred before he was in the van.
Now, she mentioned something very particular about that injury to his spine, that he would have shown a partial paralysis initially, that it was an incomplete break. So do you think that supports the idea that he was injured before he was placed in the van?
SPEAKER: Yes, I do. I think that he was injured at initial contact with the police, and it just got progressively worse because of not having a seatbelt. If he would have had a seatbelt it would have stabilized him. His body wouldn’t have bounced around. He wouldn’t have been injured more, and I think he would have survived, because they said if he would have gotten to the hospital if he was seated, he could have probably survived. But the injuries just got worse because of his spine. And even the people who picked him up, the medics, said that his neck was like a sponge.
So it just got worse. If they would have just put a seatbelt on him–. But you know, people don’t understand, who’s never been in the back of a van. I’ve never been in one. But I’ve heard it so much. The rough ride is any time you take a person from one corner to another, and then swing it around. Most of the men that I’ve talked to, if you’re in the back of that van with two or three other prisoners, and you’re side by side, you still get bumped and you sway, just like an amusement ride. You have to have more than one person by law, because if not you’re going to fall and sway and could get injured. It’s the same thing. You just got to make sense of this stuff.
So what happened is that Freddie was all by himself. He had nothing to bounce off of, and he wasn’t seatbelted. Even [men] in seatbelts, when other people, they still–the rough ride is a rough ride. And I would try to get the police to take some of these [inaud.] or lawyers or anybody else who think it’s not a rough ride to get a ride just around one block, and they’ll come back with a different conclusion about what a rough ride is.
GRAHAM: I wanted to ask you how you thought Judge Barry Williams was approaching the prosecution and defense. I’ve heard some people mention that he seemed very antagonistic towards the prosecution. How do you see Judge Barry Williams?
SPEAKER: Well, I think sometimes maybe the prosecution might have said something or done something to make him do that. But I think that he’s been awfully fair. I’ve seen him do the same thing to the defense. I think he’s a very fair and open-minded person, and he knows the law well. So I think he’s been very fair. I’m glad he’s the judge. There’s all judges, I think, try to be fair. But this judge is really on point, and he knows the law. So he stops both of them when they’re going overboard, and that’s a good thing. Yes.
GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.
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