(Reuters) – Baltimore’s chief prosecutor charged one police officer with murder on Friday and five others with lesser crimes in the death of a young black man who suffered a critical neck injury in the back of a police van, a case that fueled new anger over police conduct in black communities.
The swift decision by Marilyn Mosby, who has been in the position only since January, to charge the six officers in the death of Freddie Gray caught many by surprise in a city that experienced its worst civil unrest in decades on Monday night.
Mosby made her announcement hours after the Maryland state medical examiner had ruled the death a homicide and a day after police handed her office the findings of its internal review of Gray’s April 12 arrest.
Caesar R. Goodson Jr., a black officer who drove the police van, was charged with second-degree murder, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
All six officers – three black and three white, five men and one woman – posted bond after their arrest Friday and were released from custody. Their union rose to their defense.
“We are disappointed in the apparent rush to judgment given the fact the investigation into this matter has not been concluded,” said Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police.
Mosby, a 35-year-old African American, whose family includes generations of law enforcement officers, rejected the union’s call for a special prosecutor.
After a convulsive week, thousands of demonstrators marched through the majority black city on Friday evening, with many believing their mostly peaceful protests over two weeks had prompted Mosby’s decision.
“It was the people, it was the people out in the streets that made this happen,” said Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a civil rights activist.
Rioters burned buildings and looted stores in Baltimore on Monday night after Gray’s funeral, and 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.
Gray, 25, sustained his fatal injury while riding in a police van, the prosecutor said, citing the autopsy report. Gray succumbed to his spinal injuries in a hospital on April 19.
“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 news conference that quickly changed the tone in the city.
Gray’s family was shocked, said attorney William H. “Billy” Murphy, noting “it was a good shock that justice had been approached in this forthright and courageous manner by this prosecutor.”
(Additional reporting by Laila Kearney and Barbara Goldberg in New York, Colleen Jenkins in North Carolina, and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Frank McGurty and Mary Milliken; Editing by Grant McCool and Ken Wills)