Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced yesterday that she dropped the charges against the three remaining officers (the other three were acquitted of charges earlier this year) in the death of Freddie Gray. She cited, among other things, that “without real, substantive reforms to the current criminal justice system” a conviction was very unlikely. The same judge who presided of the acquittal of the other three officers was due to preside over this trial as well.
Many remember the events that unfolded after Gray’s death, with rioting and looting in the streets of Baltimore. The circumstances revolving around his arrest and the injuries he sustained are murky at best, but certainly do not reflect well upon the officers who detained him. He fled from the officers when he was approached, but upon being handcuffed he said he was unable to breathe and needed his inhaler. On top of this, he was loaded head-first and face-down into the police van without a seat belt, which is against the law.
Death in Police Custody
Unfortunately, this has happened a handful of times in the past couple of years. Just yesterday, video was released of a jailer choking an inmate to death. Darius Robinson had been jailed for failing to pay child support – on a six-year old warrant – and the officer was not trained for the role in which he was placed. The same thing happened to Eric Garner, who was choked to death just for selling loose cigarettes. While we’ll have to wait and see what happens to the jailer in Robinson’s case, the officer who choked Garner and the six involved in Gray’s death all had the charges dropped or were acquitted, despite medical examiner records, video evidence and eye-witness accounts.
The Eighth Amendment guarantees that cruel and unusual punishment not be inflicted. While the Supreme Court has usually dealt with this matter in the context of capital punishment and life sentencing, it can still be applied to improper treatment by law enforcement. Just because someone committed a crime – however egregious – does not mean their basic human rights are revoked. The American Bar Association has an entire outline detailing what qualifies as the proper treatment of prisoners. It includes everything from healthful food, medical treatment, and guidelines for dealing with abuse.
It’s clear that the jailer who choked Robinson to death violated a couple of these. What remains unclear is if he will actually be prosecuted and put in jail himself. The man who choked Robinson didn’t even tell the paramedics he had done so, signifying that he knows even a plea of self-defense wouldn’t help him. Even though this happened back in April, no trial date has been set because the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is still looking into the matter.
Freddie Gray is just the latest example of how difficult it is for families of those injured or killed in police custody to receive justice for the harm the officers caused.
*Featured image from Alex Lozupone, via WikiCommons