World

Freddie Gray death: Suspect wasn't in seatbelt, police union lawyer admits

Hundreds of protesters converged on City Hall again Thursday, as authorities said no video captured what happened to a Baltimore man inside a police van where officers heaved him into a metal compartment after pinning him to a sidewalk. The cause of his fatal spine injury remained unknown.

Unbelted detainees could potentially be injured in so-called 'nickel rides'

Protesters gather outside of Baltimore's City Hall before a march for Freddie Gray on Thursday. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

Hundreds of protesters converged on City Hall again Thursday, as authorities said no video captured what happened to a Baltimore man inside a police van where officers heaved him into a metal compartment after pinning him to a sidewalk. The cause of his fatal spine injury remained unknown.

A troubling detail emerged, however: Freddie Gray was not only handcuffed and put in leg irons, but left without a seatbelt during his trip to the station.

Unbelted detainees have been paralyzed and even killed by rough rides in police vans." It even has a name: "nickel rides," referring to cheap amusement park thrills.

Gray, who was black, suffered the spine injury under mysterious circumstances after he was handcuffed and put in the van. The 25-year-old died in a hospital a week after his April 12 arrest and his death became part of the national debate about the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

Police brutality against prisoners being transported was addressed just six months ago in a plan released by Baltimore officials to reduce this misconduct. Department rules updated nine days before Gray's arrest clearly state that all detainees shall be strapped in by seat belts or "other authorized restraining devices" for their own safety after arrest.

Grey was not belted in, said attorney Michael Davey, who represents at least one of the officers under investigation. But he took issue with the rules.

"Policy is policy, practice is something else," particularly if a prisoner is combative, Davey told The Associated Press. "It is not always possible or safe for officers to enter the rear of those transport vans that are very small, and this one was very small."

Commissioner Anthony Batts said there are no circumstances under which a prisoner should not be wearing a seatbelt during transport.

"He wasn't wearing a seatbelt and that's part of our investigation," Batts told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Batts also said another man who was in the van during the tail end of Gray's ride told investigators that Gray was "was still moving around, that he was kicking and making noises" up until the van arrived at the station.

But Batts was careful to say that the investigation includes "everything the officers did that day."

Meanwhile, protesters marching in support of Gray briefly scuffled with police, shouting at them and throwing objects.

Police said on their Twitter feed that at least two people were taken into custody for disorderly conduct and destruction of property. The protesters also surrounded a police transport van, similar to the one Gray was put in after he was arrested.

Police formed a barrier around the van and it was able to leave the area. The march carried on.

The protest has lasted for a couple of hours, shutting down rush hour traffic. Protesters have grown increasingly agitated.

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