Did Freddie Gray try to injure himself? Too soon to say

We’re finding out this morning that there will be no complete, official police report forthcoming in Baltimore tomorrow regarding the death of Freddie Gray. The city seems to be doing a fairly good job (for a change) in getting the word out in advance so the public isn’t waiting for indictments, etc. only to be disappointed on Friday. “Disappointed” is a bit of a misnomer there because it could be far more dangerous than that. But it also sounds like they are doing the right thing by not simply “investigating themselves” and scrapping the entire thing. Hopefully calm, law and order will hold together.

Up until now I’ve been covering the rioting and the generally poor state of affairs in inner city Baltimore without having much to say on the actual death of Freddie Gray. The reason for this should be obvious. Just as with so many other cases over the past couple of years, we simply didn’t have (and still don’t have) enough information to say conclusively what happened inside that police van on the day Gray was injured. That’s why we’re having an investigation. Yes… it certainly looked bad from what we were seeing on cable news, but much of that is coming from the same people who speculated that the missing Malaysian Airlines plane might have flown into a black hole.

Last night a new wrinkle was introduced into the mix. The Washington Post, working with some local reporters, reported that there is at least one allegation out there that Freddie Gray was actually trying to injure himself in the van.

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.

The document, written by a Baltimore police investigator, offers the first glimpse of what might have happened inside the van. It is not clear whether any additional evidence backs up the prisoner’s version, which is just one piece of a much larger probe.

Now, it’s still too early to draw any conclusions. The source for this tale – another prisoner – may or may not be the most reliable witness. Also, the details work out very well for the police (who are conducting the investigation so far) so there is that motivation to take into account. And while not impossible, you’d have to be a seriously determined masochist to smash yourself against the wall of a van hard enough to sever your spine. (Then again, the guy had lead poisoning, so who knows? That affects the mind.) As with all such questions, we should probably give the local and state police time to conduct their investigation.

Because of the amount of discussion it generated in the comments section here, it is worth addressing another rumor which had been running around. A story showed up on several web sites this week claiming that Freddie Gray had previously suffered a spinal injury from (among other suggested causes) a car accident and that he was receiving some sort of settlement for it. We couldn’t find confirmation for that story so we didn’t run it here, and now it appears that the bottom fell out of the report.

Court records examined Wednesday by The Baltimore Sun show the case had nothing to do with a car accident or a spine injury. Instead, they are connected to a lawsuit alleging that Gray and his sister were injured by exposure to lead paint.

Paperwork was filed in December allowing Gray and his sister, Fredericka to each collect an $18,000 payment from Peachtree Settlement Funding, records show. In exchange, Peachtree would have received a $108,439 annuity that was scheduled to be paid in $602 monthly installments between 2024 and 2039.

In her documents, Fredericka Gray checked “other” when asked to describe the type of accident. She also said that the date of the accident was “94/99” and that she was a minor when the case was settled.

Once you see the details from the documents it becomes clear that this wasn’t some sort of conspiracy or whitewash job to cover the cops. The forms were legitimate and it appears that Gray and his sister did a very poor job filling them out. Also, one of the categories on the form available to describe the “accident” you suffered was, work injury, medical malpractice and auto accident. That covers a lot of territory. But it turns out that the lawsuit was not over an auto accident, but lead poisoning. The story first showed up at Free Republic and it looks like they jumped the gun on that one because they’ve since pulled the article.

In any event, there will be a few preliminary findings released tomorrow, but the investigation will move up to the state level. Let’s hope that Baltimore’s City Hall leadership can hold things together a bit longer.