The field of personal injury law is vast and encompasses a great deal of civil lawsuits. The term “personal injury” covers all disputes between individuals and companies when an individual suffers bodily injury. Sometimes this results from a person having a broken arm after slipping and falling on another’s property. Other times a dispute may arise from a negligent driver causing a back injury by crashing their car into another person. Another example may be a fight between two people where at least one of them ends up with a broken nose. Whatever the bodily injury, if it is caused by the negligence or recklessness of another person, the law says that you may bring a personal injury suit to seek compensation. This is true even if a member of the government causes that injury. In our state, a tragic situation has resulted in the death of a man named Freddie Gray. On May 4, an investigation into Freddie’s death determined that it was a homicide. The nation’s eyes have turned to Baltimore for our state’s very personal injury.
The ongoing investigation into the death of Freddie Gray has thus far left us with more questions than answers. One indisputable fact exists; Baltimore’s chief prosecutor announced on May 1 that six police officers would be criminally charged for their involvement in Freddie’s death. The charges range from assault to murder to manslaughter. According to the state’s attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, Gray suffered a spinal injury on April 12, 2015 while being transported in a police van. “Mr. Gray suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet, and unrestrained inside the B.P.D. wagon,” she said. Mosby has also pointed out that Gray’s pleas for medical attention and obvious signs of peril went completely ignored by the officers who had shackled him. Mosby argues that the arrest was unlawful from the start (which was related to a blade found on his person), as no probable cause existed for officers to arrest him. She explained, “The knife was not a switchblade and is lawful under Maryland law.” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had something to say on the subject as well: “To those of you who choose to engage in violence, brutality and racism, let me be clear: There is no place in the Baltimore Police Department for you.”
The Officers Respond
The Baltimore chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police has vehemently defended the officers’ actions. From the beginning the Order has called upon Mosby to remove herself from this case and assign it to a special prosecutor; Mosby has refused. Attorney for the Fraternal Order Mike Davey said, “The actions taken today by the state’s attorney are an egregious rush to judgment. We believe that these officers will be vindicated, as they have done nothing wrong.” The Order has also accused Mosby of having political motivations, rather than legal motivations, for filing this suit. Mosby’s husband is City Councilman and this has led the Order to conclude that Mosby’s motivations stem from a concern for his political career.
As the state’s prosecutor eloquently stated, “no one is above the law.”
After Freddie Gray’s death resulted in Baltimore State’s Attorney filing criminal charges against the arresting officers, people have started to pay more attention to this type of death. Freddie, unlike other victims of police force, was not killed as a result of a bullet or a chokehold. Freddie died as a result of police inaction. After he was arrested he was denied medical treatment despite repeatedly requesting the medical attention. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby accused the officers of ignoring Freddie’s pleas for medical attention during an unnecessarily long 45-minute transport. Although Freddie’s case has received national attention and sparked riots and protests, it is apparently not an unusual situation. Records produced during investigations demonstrate just how often arrestees’ requests for medical attention are ignored.
Several journalists have begun private investigations into the events that surrounded Freddie Gray’s death. The charges against the six officers involved in his transportation post-arrest accuse each of them of failing to prevent his death. This requires that the prosecution prove that they knew or had reason to know of his need for medical attention and that they failed to take the appropriate steps to prevent his death. It was the officers’ responsibility to provide the necessary care for the man they were holding prisoner given that they were responsible for his inability to seek medical care. In an effort to identify whether this was an isolated incident or a systemic problem, the Baltimore Sun began to investigate other similar incidents.
Records requested through the Maryland Public Information Act shed some light on the tragedy.
The Sun reported that during a three year time period from June 2012 to April 2015 officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center have denied medical treatment to thousands of detainees. More specifically, 2,600 detainees in police custody were denied treatment after requesting such treatment. That means that on 2,600 occasions in the past three years a non-medically trained corrections officer refused to allow a medic to see arrestees. The records specifically cite the types of injuries complained of and the symptoms observed by intake officers in Central Booking. Among the complaints officers recognized fractured bones, facial trauma, and hypertension. Of the 2,600 there were 123 noted detainees with visible injuries to their heads. Head injuries accounted for the third most common medical problem noted by officers. By way of example a man named Salahudeen Abdul-Aziz found himself in police custody in 2011. He was beaten during arrest and left with a broken nose and fractures in his face. Hours later he was allowed to go to Central Booking and then later to the hospital. A jury awarded him $170,000 for his injuries.