Department of Justice will Investigate Freddie Gray's Death in Baltimore

April 21st 2015

Mike Vainisi

The Justice Department will investigate the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

"The Department of Justice has been monitoring the developments in Baltimore, MD, regarding the death of Freddie Gray," said Dena Iverson, spokesperson for the Department, in a statement. "Based on preliminary information, the Department of Justice has officially opened this matter and is gathering information to determine whether any prosecutable civil rights violation occurred."

Gray, a 25-year-old Black man, died Sunday after being arrested by Baltimore police on April 12. Gray's death was caused by a spinal injury. (He also had a crushed voice box.) Authorities in Baltimore have not released the full details of what exactly led to the injury. According to Baltimore police, Gray was arrested under suspicion of a weapons violation, likely for carrying a knife or a switch blade. (Gray's family says the knife was not an illegal size.) His arrest did not require a use of force, but something happened after the arrest while Gray was being transported to further booking because he was unresponsive in the police van and required an ambulance. Cell phone footage of Gray's arrest seems to indicate he could move prior to getting in the van. Police have also said Gray requested an inhaler in the van.

What does it mean to say "federal civil rights" charges? How does that differ from homicide or manslaughter?

Six officers have been suspended -- not an indication one way or another of wrongdoing -- while the Baltimore Police Department's investigation continues. Meanwhile, it appears the DOJ will be conducting its own investigation into a possible civil rights violation.

Unlike the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Mo., where the DOJ investigation came after a grand jury decided not to charge the officer involved in the Brown's death, this DOJ inquiry comes while the local investigation is incomplete. The result is that officers involved could simultaneously face both state and federal charges. An investigation into state charges such as homicide or manslaughter look at whether officers are liable for a death because they used excessive force. A federal civil rights charge, on the other hand, not only alleges that an officer used excessive force, but it also must prove that police willfully deprived a victim of his or her constitutional rights.