In Defense of the Officers Who Arrested Freddie Gray
This was published last week on Breach Bang Clear.
I confess. I’m an out-of-control, criminal cop. I once did something so horrible, I belong in prison. I want to lay my soul bare and beg for forgiveness. Here’s the story of my terrible crime. Brace yourself.
Late one night several years back, my partner and I were on patrol in a high-crime area. We wanted a drink, so we pulled into a gas station across the street from one of the worst apartment complexes in the city. We were distracted by a conversation about some inane topic, but I noticed a young black male walking away from the door of the gas station. That wasn’t unusual. The gas station had a steady flow of customers all night every night, so I didn’t pay much attention.
Then the man saw us.
He immediately sprinted across the street toward the apartment complex. We were in a high-crime area, the man immediately fled when we pulled in, and my first thought was that he had robbed the gas station. In an instant, I decided we had Reasonable Suspicion. My partner and I “switched on”; we quit jabbering, locked in on the runner and sped out of the parking lot. Our car bounced over the curb and reached the apartment gate just as the man ran through it. We bailed out and charged after him, yelling commands to stop.
The man kept going. I was a pretty good sprinter and my partner was a former college athlete, but our suspect, not burdened with fifteen pounds of gear like we were, was getting away from us. He was well ahead when he cut between two apartment buildings, and my partner split from me to head him off. It worked; the suspect saw my partner at the next corner and turned back, then ran into me. I caught him.
The first thing he did was try to flip me. I managed to stay on my feet and tackled him against a car bumper. As we struggled, my partner showed up and immediately nailed me in the forearm with his flashlight (he still denies that). After another minute or so of struggling, we got the suspect cuffed. His initial arrest was for evading detention. When we searched him incident to arrest we found an ice pick, a crack pipe with cocaine residue, plus a baggie of fake crack. The warrant system was down that night, so we couldn’t check him for warrants. We just charged him with the cocaine residue.
That’s right. I confess to chasing a criminal, catching him, fighting him and putting him in jail. I did it. I did it all.
Some of you might say, “I don’t get it. You’re a cop. You’re supposed to chase and arrest criminals.” And sure, that sounds reasonable. But I must have committed a crime. I mean, I did almost exactly what three cops in Baltimore did, and they just got indicted.
The Baltimore PD officers who arrested Freddie Gray are facing a combination of Assault, Reckless Endangerment, Manslaughter and Misconduct in Office charges (they were initially charged with slightly different crimes, including false imprisonment, but the charges were amended). They were on patrol in a high-crime area, Gray saw them and ran. The officers chased him, arrested him for possession of a switchblade knife and called for a paddy wagon to transport him. Something happened during transport, Gray was fatally injured and died a week later.
The officers who arrested Gray didn’t injure him. Nobody is claiming they beat or abused Gray. The arresting officers don’t appear to have done anything wrong. But according to the Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, the knife Gray had didn’t fit the legal definition of a switchblade. Ergo, the officers had no reason to stop or Probable Cause to arrest Gray, so they committed a crime by arresting him. Makes sense, right?
Hell no it doesn’t.
Remember, we’re not talking about the officers who transported Gray. Obviously, something bad happened in the back of the paddy wagon. It may have been malicious and intentional, like a deliberate assault on Gray while he was handcuffed. Or it could have been simply negligent, like failure to put Gray in a seat belt which led to him falling and hitting the back of his head on a bolt. I don’t know, you probably don’t know either, and the best thing to do is wait for more evidence.
For the sake of argument, let’s say the transporting officers should be charged. But why charge the arresting officers?
First, let’s talk about Probable Cause to Arrest, Reasonable Suspicion to Stop, and what exactly those terms mean.
Many people who commented on Gray’s arrest pointed out that “just running when you see police doesn’t create Probable Cause to arrest”. And they’re right. But cops don’t need PC to stop a suspect. We need PC to actually make a custodial arrest, but to stop someone and investigate we just need Reasonable Suspicion (RS) that a suspect committed or is about to commit a crime.
Here’s an example of RS: one hot summer night I was patrolling through a strip center in an extremely high-crime area. As my partner and I passed several parked cars we saw a man in the parking lot. That’s not illegal. He was dressed in dark clothing. That’s not illegal. He was kneeling between two cars. That’s suspicious as hell, but not illegal. And one final, minor, also not illegal detail: he was pulling a ski mask down over his face.
Even though he wasn’t doing anything illegal, we had RS to stop because the man appeared to be either committing a crime or preparing to. We didn’t have PC to arrest. If I had detained him and discovered there was some innocent reason he was kneeling between cars in dark clothing while putting on a ski mask late at night, like maybe he was pulling a prank on a friend, no arrest. But we had every right and reason to stop and investigate him.
So did the Baltimore officers have RS to stop Freddie Gray for simply being in a high-crime area and running from police?
Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).
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Tags: baltimore, freddie gray, veteran writers