The U.S. Department of Justice said Tuesday it won’t bring federal civil rights charges against six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest and in-custody death of Freddie Gray, a young black man whose death touched off weeks of protests and unrest in the city.
The officers were charged by state prosecutors after Gray’s neck was broken in the back of a police van in April 2015. The 25-year-old was handcuffed and shackled, but he was unrestrained by a seat belt.
The Justice Department said in a statement that while Gray’s death was “undeniably tragic,” federal prosecutors did not find enough evidence to prove the officers willfully violated his civil rights, a high legal threshold.
The decision not to bring federal charges against the officers means none of them will be held criminally responsible for Gray’s death. Three officers were acquitted in state court, and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby later dropped the remaining state cases.
Five officers face internal disciplinary hearings scheduled to begin Oct. 30. Those officers are Lt. Brian Rice, Sgt. Alicia White and officers Caesar Goodson, Edward Nero and Garrett Miller. The sixth officer, William Porter, was not charged administratively.
The Justice Department decision was first reported by The Baltimore Sun. The Baltimore Police Department, Mayor Catherine Pugh, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on the decision.
Gray’s death triggered the firing of then-police commissioner Anthony Batts.
It also prompted the Justice Department to open an investigation into allegations of discriminatory policing practices and unlawful arrests. Last year, the Justice Department released a report detailing widespread patterns of abuse and misconduct within the Baltimore Police Department. The federal agency entered into a court-enforceable agreement in January to reform the troubled police department.
On Tuesday, attorneys representing the officers expressed relief that their clients will not be held criminally responsible for Gray’s death.
“These cases were never criminal and should never have been charged as such,” said Rice’s attorney, Michael Belsky.
Joe Murtha, who represents Porter, said he was relieved the Justice Department “determined that there wasn’t a basis to move forward with the civil rights action,” adding: “It’s a good decision.”
Civil rights advocates are watching closely how U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions handles…