Freddie Gray’s death was caused by a “high-energy injury” to his neck and spine, which most likely occurred when the Baltimore police van he was riding in suddenly braked, according to an autopsy report obtained by the Baltimore Sun. Gray was taken into custody on April 12 and died in the hospital a week later, sparking massive protests across the country. The state medical examiner’s office concluded that the death was a homicide because officers didn’t follow proper safety procedures “through acts of omission.”
The van made several stops, and the report determined that Gray probably sustained the injury, which was similar to those found in shallow-water diving accidents, between the second and fourth stops. At that point he had been placed in the van on his stomach with his wrists and ankles shackled. The medical examiner said he likely got to his feet, putting him “at risk for an unsupported fall during acceleration or deceleration of the van.”
Gray was initially placed on a bench in the van with his wrists restrained behind his back. He was not belted in, which is a violation of Baltimore police procedure. He kept “yelling and shaking the van,” so according to the medical examiner, “He was removed from the van and placed on the ground in a kneeling position, facing the van doors, while ankle cuffs were placed, and then slid onto the floor of the van, belly down and head first, reportedly still verbally and physically active.”
During the third stop Officer Caesar Goodson, the van’s driver, got out and looked in the back. During the fourth stop he called for assistance, and Officer William Porter responded. “The assisting officer opened the doors and observed Mr. Gray lying belly down on the floor with his head facing the cabin compartment, and reportedly he was asking for help, saying he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get up, and needed a medic,” the report says. “The officer assisted Mr. Gray to the bench and the van continued on its way.”
During the fifth stop, “Mr. Gray was found kneeling on the floor, facing the front of the van and slumped over to his right against the bench, and reportedly appeared lethargic with minimal responses to direct questions,” the autopsy says.
The report ruled out several theories about what caused Gray’s injuries; it found he had no previous spinal injuries and was not seriously hurt while being restrained by police.
A day after the autopsy report was completed on April 30, criminal charges were announced against six officers involved in Gray’s arrest. Officer Goodson is facing the most serious charge of second-degree “depraved-heart” murder. All of the officers have pleaded not guilty and are set to stand trial in October.