DR. WHELAN’S BOOK PUBLISHED
Editor’s Note: Here are excerpts from Dr. Mary Anne Whelan’s just-published “Freddie’s Last Ride,” the retired Bassett Hospital neurologist’s assessment of the controversial case of a black teenager in Baltimore who died in police custody in 2015. It is available through www.amazon.com.
April 12, 2015, … police saw a young black man, Freddie Gray, and without provocation other than his identity, chased him when he ran and pinned him when he stopped for them, slammed him face down, knelt on him, dragged him up and stuffed him into a police van.
This, also, was not unusual. But on this occasion, rather unusually, even for the Baltimore police, they had broken his neck before stuffing him in.
It is not too much to say that the outcome of the trials of the six charged officers … was determined before the first person took the stand.
To a major extent, the prosecution had to depend on proving charges which depended on circumstantial evidence and upon knowing the state of mind of the defendant.
(Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn) Mosby, who brought those charges, certainly should have known better.
Unfortunately, Mosby relied upon the autopsy report and in interpreting confused autopsy evidence, in the usual sense, with opinion, which the pathologist had derived from what the police told her about the state of the victim and the timing of the injury.
She therefore brought charges which, in greatest part, had to do with an event presumed to take place inside the van. And the media followed suit.
This error of construction was the determining factor in the acquittal of the four officers tried – Porter, Nero, Goodson and Rice – and of charges being dropped against the others.
It was a calamitous error.
The argument about which stop Gray was injured at was irrelevant to begin with, as it had to be, given the misplaced charges based on the assumption that it had happened in the van. It was like disputing the number of angels that could fit onto the head of a pin.
What can be essentially taken away from these arguments is that there was no hard factual evidence to support any timing, only opinion, acknowledged speculation and misinformation.
And what is perhaps the most notable of all: No one person, or persons, were ever actually charged with breaking Gray’s neck.
All of this is to say that there is another, very largely unaddressed, area of ethical responsibility for individual physicians. That is the moral obligation to speak out, and to offer voluntary input, professional but unreimbursed, in individual and obvious cases.
If, in the end, the crucible of justice in the courts failed Freddie, there was plenty of blame to go around. The failure of the informed neurosurgical community to come forward individually and collectively deserves blame.
Mosby largely blamed the lack of independent investigation, the absence of community oversight into the inquiry, the police, and the judge, saying that she could have tried the case a hundred times with no different outcome.
She was entirely right with regard to the problem of police investigating police and their subordination of the prosecution investigations. Losing witness testimony, among other things, is not pretty.
But it is impossible not to assign her, along with (Assistant Medical Examiner) Carol Allen and (Chief Medical Examiner) David Fowler, a large part of the responsibility for the outcome.
Mosby herself, in tracking the misleading assessment of the autopsy report without close reading of its separation of opinion from medical evidence, was ultimately to blame.
Her charges were inappropriately conceived. She did not seek appropriate medical input before bringing them. She failed to insist on an independent investigation. And while (Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry) Williams could certainly be criticized for some of his decisions – most notably, on the seatbelting issue, but also in terms of his framing of the time of Goodson’s awareness of Grays condition – he was honorable, experienced and competent.
In ignoring the obvious video evidence and the testimony of eyewitnesses and by failing to charge the arresting officers specifically with homicide, Mosby must bear the major responsibility.
It didn’t happen in the van. The arresting officers broke his neck.
The case should be retried.