Despite Acquittals of Officers Charged in the Death of Freddie Gray, Victims of Brutality Vow to Fight On
On the day Judge Barry Williams cleared Lt. Brian Rice on all charges in the death of Gray, Tawanda Jones marked the 3rd anniversary of the death of her brother Tyrone West in police custody by calling for prosecutors to press forward
TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.
We’re outside City Hall where we just heard that Lieutenant Brian Rice has been found not guilty on all three charges of manslaughter, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment. We’re here to get a response from the community and the protesters who are concerned about accountability.
Judge Barry Williams issued the verdict today stating that prosecutors failed to meet the level of proof needed to sustain charges against Lieutenant Rice in his role in the death of Freddie Gray. This includes the decision not to seatbelt Gray, which Judge Williams ruled did not rise to the level of a crime. But Tawanda Jones, sister of Tyrone West who died in police custody 3 years ago today, says that the fight should continue given that cases like her brother’s remain in limbo. A man who died in police custody after being severely beaten. And like others across the country, a death which resulted from an encounter with police that began with a minor traffic stop.
[CHANTING]: Justice for Tyrone West! Justice for Tyrone West!
TAWANDA JONES: So now for 3 years, 156 weeks, my family been fighting and all of my supporters. Not just for justice for my brother but for all the victims. But today we’re here for my brother.
GRAHAM: Now I’m sure you’ve heard the verdict with Lieutenant Brian Rice that all three counts were dismissed. How does that make you feel?
JONES: It makes me feel very sad.
GRAHAM: And what do you think this means for police accountability in Baltimore? Do you think the prosecutor, the city-state’s attorney will have any chance of prosecuting officers who’ve been accused of brutality and misconduct in office?
JONES: I think she won’t have a chance because this is to me—its set in like a scary thing that says that nobody is going to be held accountable and it’s really sad. And at the end of the day I feel like right now our world is suffering all over because of the lack of accountability and then you have people that don’t have it all there. They’re taking the laws in their own hand, which I don’t agree with that at all. You know but it’s just sad that why should we all be held up under this when it could be avoided by holding people accountable.
GRAHAM: Do you think that our next Mayor will be able to do anything to hold the police department accountable?
JONES: That’s something we have to see. That is something that we have to see because right now I don’t have faith in nobody but god. Like because at the end of the day people are failing us like—when they’re doing half jobs and that’s what you’re seeing going on. I’m going to do a little something. We don’t need a little something done. We need all and everything that you can do.
You cannot strike a home run from 3rd base. I want you to stand–if you’re trying to strike a home run and that’s a home run for justice, for all the victims of police brutality and holding people accountable–you need to stand there and hit that ball. You need to start from first and work your way around to 3rd base and make it home.
We got our brother’s body exhumed okay. And for us–and the saddest part about it was that we went through all of this and try and we’re still waiting on the end of our seats waiting and we praying to god that nobody gets back to our forensics doctor who is out of state. Which by the way I must mention, I’d be remiss to let you know that they already got to him. Because before he was talking to me fine and then when I called him back to ask him, they took us through the dog and pony show.
They didn’t want us to do it here. It’s disgusting. We didn’t even tell our attorneys what we were doing and for somebody to reach this man out of state and block their number and pretend to be me, that is scary. That’s all we’ve ever asked was for accountability.
DIANNE BUTLER: We had the exhumation because we need as a family. We trust no one. We believe no one. From day 1 when they came to my home and they started these lies, the first words that came out Lieutenant Russell’s mouth was did Tyrone West have any medical problems? Any medical problems? You’re not telling me my child was beaten to death but eye witnesses, they stated these facts.
We knew from day 1, the lies were beginning so we started our own movement. And that was to get justice for Tyrone West. They seem to have a problem with the slogan black lives matter. Listen to this, Tyrone West life mattered. All victims of police brutality life mattered. And until they get that and understand what my family has been going through for three years and other members of police brutality, none of this madness is going to stop.
Give us accountability. Jail these officers. Prosecute them. You have unarmed men and women dead and you’re doing nothing. And you think my family was going to sit by and let this happen to Tyrone? Never. We’re going to fight for Tyrone West until it kills us. And we’re going to fight for all victims of police brutality because it’s still happening.
Stop this madness people. Clean your house commissioner. Your house is dirty. You want people to–if you see something, say something. The same thing goes for you.
STEPHEN JANIS: So this is the 4th acquittal. What’s your take on the continuum of the trials?
DOUG COLBERT: Only 3 acquittals and 1 hung jury. And the hung jury, the prosecution came very close to convicting on 2 of the 4 charges.
JANIS: Well what’s your takeaway from this? I mean people could say you know that Marilyn Mosby has failed. But you have sort of a different take on this.
COLBERT: We’re making progress and we’re having public trials. We’re learning about police practices and the police are now on notice of how they must protect and safeguard people taken into custody. So we’re not quite there yet in terms of being able to satisfy a judge in the burden of proof but we’re getting very close.
JANIS: You know during the last trial we see many instances where officers’ testimonies contradictory. Why don’t you think that influenced the judge?
COLBERT: I think it likely influenced but not sufficiently to find that he could accept the circumstantial evidence that a different fact finder might have concluded that Freddie Gray was placed in a very vulnerable and unsafe position and it was likely that he was going to suffer a serious injury or die.
JANIS: Do you think it would’ve played out differently in front of a jury?
COLBERT: I think there are jurors who certainly would have found that the evidence satisfied proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And it would’ve taken a deliberation to determine whether all 12 would have. But that’s the benefit of a jury trial. You have community participation. You have discussion. You work out your differences. If you still feel that there’s a reasonable doubt you hold onto that believe. But when you’re only a single judge there’s nobody else to talk to.
JANIS: How would you rate the prosecution’s efforts in this case?
COLBERT: I commend the prosecution for being determined to convict, for doing their best to meet their burden. I think there are more things that the prosecution learned from this case and in the future I expect that the prosecutor will bring in evidence of police officers awareness that this was a very unsafe and dangerous condition where Freddie Gray suffered his death. And once you have the awareness which will come from the amount of money that the city of Baltimore has paid out over the years for other people who suffered serious injures. You know when people look at the outcome and wonder should there be more prosecutions? You have to examine this historically and the perspective I would suggest is that for the first 200-250 years, Freddie Gray wasn’t even regarded as a person who deserved protection of law in this country. Then once slavery was eliminated, you shoot forward to the Emmett Tills of this country who again even though the offenders were brought to trial, the all-white jury made sure that no one was ever going to be convicted. Now we have police officers and they may well be one of the last vestiges of the past when it comes to prosecuting people for the death of another person. We are making progress in our system and I think that the new ground that’s being broken here will mean that police know they cannot treat people like they did Freddie Gray.
GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.
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