Why You Should Be Skeptical About the New Police Narrative on Freddie Gray’s Death

Lu Jiafei/Xinhua/ZUMA

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On a relatively quiet night in Baltimore, the Washington Post dropped a bombshell. According to a sealed court document, a witness alleged that Freddie Gray—whose April death has triggered days of protests in the city—may have been deliberately attempting to injure himself while in police custody:

A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself,” according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.

The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate’s safety.

It’s easy to see how a sealed document like that, drafted by a police investigator, might have leaked to the press in spite of the court order, and in spite of the police department’s general aura of secrecy. If Gray’s injuries were self-inflicted, the police department is off the hook.

But as WBAL’s Jayne Miller noted, the new exculpatory allegation appears to be at odds with the police department’s earlier narrative, as well as the timeline of events:

And there’s another reason to be skeptical. Information that comes out of jails is notoriously unreliable, for the simple reason that anyone in jail has a real incentive to get out; cooperating with the people who determine when they get out is an obvious way to score points. This report from the Pew Charitable Trust walks through the conflicts in detail. According to the Innocence Project, 15 percent of wrongful convictions that are eventually overturned by DNA testing originally rested on information from a jailhouse informant. Two years ago in California, for instance, a federal court overturned the conviction of an alleged serial killer known as the “Skid Row Stabber” because the conviction rested on information from an inmate dismissed as a “habitual liar.”

Or maybe the witness in Baltimore is right—that happens too!—and what we thought we knew about the Freddie Gray case was wrong. But the department isn’t doing much to quiet the skeptics. It announced Wednesday that it will not make public the full results of its investigation into Gray’s death, “because if there is a decision to charge in any event by the state’s attorney’s office, the integrity of that investigation has to be protected.”

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

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ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

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