Freddie Gray

No Wonder Freddie Gray Ran From the Cops

A fatal injury in police custody highlights Baltimore's history of bogus busts.


When the cops chasing Freddie Gray caught up with him, they had a problem: He had not done anything illegal. They solved that problem the way cops often do: They picked a charge after the fact.

According to Marilyn Mosby, the state's attorney for Baltimore, that charge, carrying a switchblade, was legally unfounded. Gray's death, due to a spinal injury he suffered in the back of a police van, thus has shined a light on the way police officers abuse their arrest powers to impose arbitrary punishment, a practice that helps explain the anger on display in Baltimore last week.

Of the various criminal charges that Mosby announced on Friday in connection with Gray's death, the most striking was false imprisonment. Mosby said Lt. Brian Rice, together with Officers Edward Nero and Garrett Miller, "failed to establish probable cause for Mr. Gray's arrest as no crime had been committed."

Maryland law defines a switchblade as a knife with "a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in the handle of the knife." Since Gray's folding knife did not fit that description, Mosby said, he plainly was not guilty of the crime that was the pretext for hauling him away in handcuffs.

Although there is some dispute on that point, Baltimore has a history of such trumped-up charges. A 2006 class action lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) cited "a pattern and practice" of bogus arrests for minor, often vaguely defined offenses such as loitering, trespassing, impeding pedestrian traffic, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and failure to obey a police command.

Of 76,497 people arrested by Baltimore police without warrants in 2005, the lawsuit noted, prosecutors declined to charge 25,293—nearly one out of three. According to the state's attorney, those cases were "legally insufficient."

The arrests nevertheless had real consequences for people who were publicly kidnapped by armed agents of the state, strip-searched, and placed in "small, filthy, and overcrowded cells" for hours or days. In addition to the humiliation, degradation, and loss of liberty inflicted by this process, the ACLU and NAACP noted, victims of illegal arrests "may lose their jobs or be denied job opportunities in the future as a result of the permanent stigma of having a criminal charge on their record."

The named plaintiffs in the case included Tyrone Braxton and Evan Howard, two friends who spent 36 and 54 hours behind bars, respectively, after police accused them of loitering and impeding traffic; Donald Wilson, who was strip-searched and held for five hours, although he was never told what crime he had supposedly committed; and Aaron Stoner and Robert Lowery, two visitors from Pennsylvania who were arrested for failure to obey an order to stop loitering, strip-searched, and locked up for 17 hours. "For innocent victims of these arrest practices," the lawsuit observed, "being unlawfully arrested can be a life-changing event."

Under a settlement reached in 2010, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) agreed to change performance evaluation policies that encouraged false arrests and introduce safeguards aimed at ensuring that cops have probable cause when they take people into custody. Two years later, the ACLU complained that the BPD was "failing to comply" with the agreement. It noted that "BPD officers did not or could not justify arrests for quality of life offenses in at least 35 percent of the cases examined" by an independent auditor.

As demonstrated by Austin cops who arrest activists for recording police encounters and New York cops who arrest pot smokers for publicly displaying marijuana after tricking them into revealing it, this problem is not limited to Baltimore. But given the city's history of hassling young black men for imaginary offenses, it is not hard to understand why Freddie Gray ran when he saw the cops.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

NEXT: Rand Paul's Early Fundraising: Small Town Appeal, More Than 10 Percent of His Givers Gave to Ron Paul

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Clap outbreak at Abstinence-only School

    Unpossible!! Next you’re going to tell me there was a shooting at a gun-free school!
    PS: OT

    1. Chlamydia is not ‘the clap’, that’s Gonorrhea.

      1. Ah, my apologies; fortunately I’m not intimately familiar w/ either

        1. UCS KNOWS HIS STDs!!! Get it right, BUSH!

      2. Chlap outbreak. pronounced the same, confusion is understandable.

  2. They solved that problem the way cops often do: They picked a charge after the fact.

    Luckily we the people have insisted lawmakers provide law enforcement with cornucopia from which to choose.

    One of the many problems with criminal justice is that nearly everyone who works in has an assembly line attitude to the system. They see the widgets pass by their station on the conveyor belt with little thought to the fact that the widgets are people with their own lives to try to keep in order: jobs, families, bills, etc.

    1. These are called ‘tools’ for the police. Of course they are all hammers.

    2. I’m shocked that “running on a sidewalk” wasn’t a crime they could choose from.

      1. Isn’t “resisting arrest” usually criminal almost anywhere? Seems like an open and shut case to me.

        1. He resisted them arresting him for resisting arrest?

        2. He didn’t resist arrest, fuck off, statist.

          1. Running isn’t resisting?

            1. Not if that is all he did, which is the case here. If he was stopped for driving 105 mph and was being placed under arrest for reckless drving then ran that could be resisting arrest.

      2. Actually I’m shocked they didn’t call that “disorderly conduct” or some thing similar.

  3. When the cops chasing Freddie Gray caught up with him, they had a problem: He had not done anything illegal.

    By running from the Domestic Hero Force he was resisting arrest.

    HTH, smooches, etc.

    1. When the cops chasing Freddie Gray caught up with him, they had a problem

      Their prey drive was not satiated?

      1. Otherwise known as Dick Mode

        1. Everyone knows that if you don’t satiate your Dick Mode?, it gets all… throbby.

  4. Didn’t SCOTUS recently give LEOs license to be wrong about the law? Wonder how that precedent will affect things here.

    1. Yes: Heien v. North Carolina.

    2. Come on! There are so many laws and they are so complicated, how is an officer of the Law supposed to know them all?

      1. much less the common citizen.

    3. Excellent point.

      “Your Honor, this entire incident, although unfortunate, was just a ‘reasonable mistake of law’.”

      “Case dismissed!”

    4. Yes. I am sure a judge will find it totally reasonable to mistake a regular folding knife with a switchblade…

      Irrelevant for the criminal case against the cops but very relevant when the family sues for wrongful death.

      1. UPDATE:
        The knife, in fact, did have a spring mechanism to assist the blade in opening, just no button to activate it.
        The knife was illegal.
        And the knife was used as the reason for the arrest, since the arresting officers saw a transaction occur, but didn’t find any contraband on Freddie when they caught up with him. Them just observing a deal doesn’t usually lead to a prosecution.

        1. UPDATE:
          Baltimore City Police killed Freddie Gray

    5. True, but he could not legally be stopped if one of his tail lights were still operating. Were both out when he ran off?

  5. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Unless your job is to enforce it.

    1. Maybe the citizenry should unionize if they really want to get away with lame excuse making.

      1. “Maybe the citizenry should unionize”

        That… sounds like an agrarian revolt. Yep, I’m pretty sure that’s an agrarian revolt. Challenge accepted.

  6. This video will talk about where this country is headed. ?reload= 7&rdm;= 1i1yr85yq#/watch?v=qLaP6rt4ng0 a must watch.

    1. Blew the layup.

    2. *** scratches chin ***

      Is this another “work at home” come-on?

      1. I’m sorry, make sure you close the spaces on the web address to enter the site

  7. Case already falling apart.
    Mosby needs to Check her Black Privilege.

    1. Ha ha! Like that’ll ever happen.

    2. The premise of this article is BS.

  8. Surely “our” Democratic and Republican representatives wouldn’t allow such violations of individual rights, would they?
    But I do recall watching a U. of Texas at Austin campus cop pestering someone over trivial nonsense, and stood watching. The guy with the billy club was irritated and asked me what I was doing. “Witnessing” was not the answer he wanted but back then there was little he could do about it. “Both” parties have changed that.

    1. “Surely” they would and do.

    2. Back in Boulder I watched the cops break up a party and stood aghast as the cops took one guy and smashed his face against a white van until it was covered in blood. One of the cops ran up to me and threatened the same along with an arrest for loitering if I didn’t move along. I moved along.

      1. but they were there to protect you, didn’t you know that?

  9. Picking a charge after the fact ( in other words simply invent one ) is what makes me nervous anytime I find myself anywhere in the nation where public sector unions are in operation.

    1. I’ll limit my fear to police unions. Also, non unionized LEOs also abuse power (the biggest civil asset forfeiture abuses happen in smaller police departments, which are generally not unionized).

  10. Switchblade laws are fucking stupid to begin with.

    They were brought about by the 1950s-era versions of these gun control harpies we see today – pearl-clutching harridans blaming the object instead of the criminal.

    There seems to be this idea that switchblades are some kind of extra-dangerous knife because the blade comes out instantly. What about folding knives with a thumb stud? What about Bowie knives that come in a sheath? You just pull it out and it’s ready for action! They should be banned, right?

    Unfortunately, it’s one of those laws that will never be done away with. If any politician, whether R or D, introduced repeal legislation, their opponent would run commercials with all kinds of scary thugs flicking stilettos and a voice-over saying: “My opponent wants to put fully-automatic assault knives in the hands of criminals!”

    1. Personally I’m partial to butterfly knives. And in a lot of places Bowie knives are illegal (actually any blade longer than 3 inches in some locales). It’s fucking retarded.

    2. Dude. In New Jersey it is illegal to sell appliances on a Sunday. They literally put a tarp and chains over the appliance section in department stores… leaving the rest of the merchandise accessible. I do not even know what to tell you about laws.

    3. Dude. In New Jersey it is illegal to sell appliances on a Sunday. They literally put a tarp and chains over the appliance section in department stores… leaving the rest of the merchandise accessible. I do not even know what to tell you about laws.

  11. “… democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time . . . .” -Winston Churchill

    In Baltimore, we are witnessing the consequences of democracy. A rush to judgement in response to an angry mob of mainly Negroes rioting … Negroes who vote.

    No lengthy, detailed investigation. No hearing by a grand jury. Instead, a Negroid mayor state-attorney accusing police-officers of premeditated homicide.

    “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” -John Adams (1725-1836)

    One might note that, to the Founding Fathers of the USA, the word, democracy, was an obscenity. It connoted mob-rule.

    Chaotic anarchy followed by tyranny typically are the consequences of democracy. It is the destination towards which we are headed here in America as we leave far behind the concept of a Christian America reflecting traditional English law and custom.

    Fortunately, authoritarianism isn’t the only alternative to democracy. A much better alternative is participatory republicanism, the concept upon which the USA was founded … the concept now being discarded in favor of a democracy in which the unproductive rob the productive of the fruits of their labors. Is there is a remedy for this social malignancy? Yes.

    See “Democracy? Wrong, Mr. Churchill” at … .

    1. “BioBehavioral”

      Way to show your hand here. Also +1 for “Negroid”

      10/10 for signalling

    2. Jimmy the Greek agrees.

    3. Wow. Fuck you in your fucking face you racist dick-fuck. FUCK YOU.

      1. ok Harold when was the last time whites rioted, looted or set a city on fire. I personally cannot think of one but can give you many examples of blacks doing it, and not just recently Watts in the 1960s, Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s Rodney King in the 1990s.

        too bad but there is way too much evidence for this simply to be a coincidence.

        1. Not an entire city but winning a sports championship results in some of that activity (or Vancouver losing a Stanley Cup). And didn’t some places in England have riots about the same time the Arab Spring began? Seattle and the WTO protest?

    4. Wheeeeewwww.

      Well, we agree on one thing. The unproductive do rob the productive of the fruits of their labor, and always have. But apparently you think that “Negroids” have some kind of monopoly on unproductiveness, which is fascinating. No, the unproductive are all over the place in society. They exist at the top, they exist at the bottom – some are better than others at convincing people that they are in fact productive and that they share common interests and want to make the country better.

      That ain’t new, baby. Your vision of participatory republicanism is undoubtedly one that would suck for everyone but you. I can already tell you’d be a total peach to deal with for anyone who’s even a little different from you, and somehow I’m just SURE you’re envisioning yourself as being some sort of important presence in this new system. All the sociopaths do.

    5. Not to be obvious but the US is a Constitutional Republic… not a democracy 😉

      “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

  12. If there is a law for something that something ain’t “bogus”. Less laws please, but cops get to enforce what is on the books.

    1. In this case they were “enforcing” something not on the books.

    2. “If there is a law for something that something ain’t “bogus”.”

      If the law were simplified, that might be true, but as it stands, that’s not a guarantee, and there isn’t exactly much of a precedent in history to back that up.

      Loitering: AKA “standing in a public place.”
      Vagrancy: AKA “committing the crime of not having a place to live.”
      Sodomy: AKA “Getting sexy, in privacy, with someone you want to have sex with and wants to have sex with you.”

      Also, all too often cops do not know what they are enforcing, which is a main point of this article. They have a whole menu of things they can apply to literally anyone that they arrested unlawfully, and by and large they will not be questioned about it.

    3. but cops get to enforce what is on the books

      So was “get” a Freudian slip, a typo, or just the way you see things and you didn’t even notice your choice of words? The cops get to use whatever laws are the book to harass the people they supposedly work for. The cops get to use whatever laws are on the book to be little tyrants and violate the dignity and rights of people who are just minding their own business. The cops get to use whatever laws are on the book in order to puff up their frail little egos, which are apparently more important than whatever the serfs are up to at the moment in their little lives.

  13. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,
    Go to tech tab for work detail ???????????????

  14. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  15. New at Reason:

    Nut hugging conformists commenters who live in lily white suburbia demand the cops be lynched and then wait for their college professors to tell them how wonderful they are and pat them on the back for being so brave.

    P.S. Trigger warning

    New at Reason:

    Millennial fascists run screaming to safe zones to cool down due to the ill timing of the trigger warning from the previous comment.

    1. All too usual at reason:

      “libertarian” trolls who operate as apologists for state violence. they believe that this makes them nonconformists

    2. It’s funny because none of that is happening.

      I’m always amazed at how hard people have to try to find something to be defensive about – in this case, outright making up the entirety of your complaint in order to feel personally victimized by a general sentiment that they otherwise only vaguely disagree with.

      1. Joe and Hez. I think you have a point that you are trying to convey but it is not coherent enough to determine for sure. I will try. Here is one of the commenters I was “trolling” about.

        The Late P Brooks|5.5.15 @ 10:52AM|#

        If a mob dragged those six cops from their homes and decorated lampposts with them, I would not be terribly distressed.

        Joe: If this is trolling, and if trolling you is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

        Hez: this is one of those people writing comments that aren’t happening in your world.

        Take the use of language. It could be a black guy making this comment but most would bet their next pay check that it is not. I would however be so bold to consider that this person is likely a millennial given the words and tone of the comment and knowing that millennials are always very provocative about subjects they know are preapproved for hyperbolic ridicule and make the comments seeking peer praise in lock step conformity to what their peers have taught them. The videos are legion showing Millennials agreeing to anything if they think it is peer approved.

        My generation were Rebels without a cause, the Millennial generation has a cause and it conformity pretending to be rebellion.

  16. Knowing that I live in a city where police are brutal is probably even greater reason not to resist or run. Frankly, right or wrong, not a single one of the people killed by police where riots ensued would have died if they hadn’t resisted, run or actively attacked the police, and the majority were actually criminals in the middle of criminal acts.

    On the other hand 100% innocent people who have done absolutely nothing are seemingly routinely killed, harmed or terrorized by police in no-knock raids in the war on drugs and not a peep is uttered.

    1. “Knowing that I live in a city where police are brutal is probably even greater reason not to resist or run”

      I am guessing that means you are not actually of the population that they are usually brutal towards, be that a race, part of town, or economic class. Because otherwise you would be speaking from a history of repeatedly being hassled, falsely arrested, and otherwise menaced, in which no matter what you do it is made clear to you that you are beneath human treatment and your innocence isn’t of anyone’s concern. It’s very easy to say this when they aren’t “brutal” to you, but the brutishness starts long before the resistance in many cases.

  17. Given that three of the officers in the Baltimore incident were black, I tend to believe this was not a problem of racial bias but of police practice of overreach. When I was in high school I had a number of incidents with the police because of my long hair (yes a hippy). My rights were violated because the police were redneck aholes. In the Baltimore incident obviously something major happen to kill the suspect, but he should never have been stopped in the first place. I don’t think the focus should be on race but on the role of police everywhere, as well stated at

  18. Cops say it was a switchblade. Lets produce yhr knife and see. All we have here are facts..

  19. The problem for libertarians who resent the police is that there are no legitimate cases of police injustice that went unpunished that are on the public radar, so the supposed epidemic may not exist. In each such case, the police were exonerated. Facts eventually come out in the Age of the Internet, so one should not convey false impressions because you will get called out. Examples:
    1. “According to Marilyn Mosby…that charge, carrying a switchblade, was legally unfounded” – the early opinion of this politically-motivated public employee is not fact.
    2. “Mosby said [the officers] ‘failed to establish probable cause for Mr. Gray’s arrest as no crime had been committed'” – whether a crime was actually committed is a separate issue from probable cause, and reportedly, there was probable cause based on his actions: he was seen participating in what could reasonably be believed to be a drug deal, and he ran when he saw cops.
    3. “Gray’s death, due to a spinal injury he suffered in the back of a police van” – his death may have been a suicide, and it was not an injury of the spine proper.
    4. “…given the city’s history of hassling young black men for imaginary offenses” – they are not imaginary, and even the Nate Silver link doesn’t claim they are imaginary, only that cops made arrests for lesser crimes and then didn’t bother to follow them up with documentation or court appearances. There is a difference. No evidence has been presented that cops are making false arrests.

  20. Well, Sullum sure blew this one. The arrest was entirely legal – Mosby was stupidly wrong by not knowing that Baltiomore has a law against those knives. Sullum should check his sources before he illegally accuses others of illegal things. But this is funny –

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.