Six Baltimore police officers have been charged, including one with murder, in the death of a black man who was arrested and suffered a fatal neck injury while riding in a moving police van, the city's chief prosecutor said on Friday.
Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby said Freddie Gray, who died a week after his April 12 arrest, was in handcuffs and shackles but otherwise was not restrained inside the van. The officers failed to provide medical attention to Gray even though he asked for help on at least two occasions.
The death of 25-year-old Gray has become the latest flashpoint in a national outcry over the treatment of African-Americans and other minority groups by U.S. law enforcement.
After a night of rioting in Baltimore on Monday following Gray's funeral, protests spread to other major cities in a reprise of demonstrations set off by police killings last year of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, New York and elsewhere.
Six Baltimore police officers who were involved in arresting Gray were charged with crimes ranging from second-degree murder to manslaughter to assault and misconduct in office. Only one, Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., the driver of the police vehicle, was charged with second-degree murder.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years imprisonment and the other offenses carry prison terms of between three years to 10 years.
"To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America, I heard your call for 'no justice, no peace.' Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man," Mosby said at a dramatic news conference on the steps of the War Memorial Building in Baltimore a day after the police department handed over findings from its internal investigation.
The decision to bring charges and the speed at which Mosby made the announcement was greeted with jubilation on the streets of Baltimore, where angry young people looted, burned cars and clashed with police only four nights ago.
"I am shocked that they were charged but I am happy they were charged," said James Crump, 46, a medical technician. "People are happy and celebrating, and it's not even New Year's Eve."
More demonstrations have been planned in cities coast to coast for the weekend, although the Baltimore prosecutor's announcement will likely change the tone of rallies. In Ferguson and New York last year, grand juries decided against charging officers who were involved in the deaths of two unarmed black men. The news triggered rioting in the St. Louis suburb and days of protest marches in New York and other cities.
The union representing the officers, the Fraternal Order of Police, Baltimore City Lodge No. 3, in a letter to Mosby on Friday asked for a special prosecutor to be appointed. It said the officers were not responsible for Gray's death.
At the news conference, Mosby said a special prosecutor would not be as accountable as the people of Baltimore as she would be.
Representatives of Gray's family were not immediately available for comment.
MEDICAL EXAMINER RULES DEATH A HOMICIDE
Mosby said the Maryland chief medical examiner ruled Gray's death a homicide. Gray was no longer breathing when he was finally removed from the van, Mosby said. Gray died in hospital on April 19.
Goodson, the officer who was driving the van, is charged with murder and involuntary manslaughter. Three others are also charged with involuntary manslaughter: Sgt. Alicia D. White, Officer William G. Porter and Lt. Brian Rice. All six are facing lesser charges as well, including Officer Edward M. Nero and Officer Garrett E. Miller.
A crowd of people who gathered to listen to the prosecutor's announcement broke into applause and drivers honked their car horns after she finished speaking.
Some of the onlookers chanted: “Justice!” “Justice for Freddie!” “Thank you Ms Mosby."
"The people of America give me hope. People like this district attorney give me hope," said Jay Morrison, a youth leader who attended the news conference.
Mosby, a 35-year-old African-American who took office in January, said her office had been conducting a parallel investigation while awaiting the findings of the internal police probe.
"I thought it was very important to have an independent analysis as to what took place and transpired from the very beginning," Mosby said.