The autopsy conducted on Freddie Gray helps the case of the six Baltimore police officers charged in the 25-year-old’s death, a law professor tells The Daily Caller.
John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, also says that the autopsy, a review of which was published Tuesday by The Baltimore Sun, indicates that Baltimore city state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby “downplayed” the medical examiner’s findings when she publicly announced charges against the officers on May 1.
“I think this autopsy report is very, very helpful to the defense in many ways,” Banzhaf told The Daily Caller in a phone interview.
“The report suggests that Gray may have contributed to his own death.”
Assistant medical examiner Carol Allan ruled Gray’s death a homicide, determining that he likely died as the result of a single “high-energy” blow to the lower left part of his head. Gray suffered that injury after the officer driving his police transport van, Caesar Goodson, Jr., had placed him in leg shackles and put him on his stomach in the vehicle. (RELATED: Freddie Gray’s Autopsy Shows He Likely Got On His Own Feet Before Injury In Back Of Police Van)
In one surprising twist, Allan surmised that Gray could have been standing up in the police van right before he was injured. She said that a sudden deceleration could have caused Gray, who was also handcuffed behind his back, to slam his head against the inside of the van. That injury likely caused paralysis in his arms and hindered his ability to breathe. Gray died on April 19.
“This is clearly a very, very dangerous thing to do,” Banzhaf said of the possibility that Gray decided to stand up in the police van.
According to Banzhaf, the possibility that Gray stood up on his own before the injury presented “a new and unexpected danger” for police — one that they “could not have reasonably anticipated.”
“This finding that Gray probably caused harm to himself by standing up … weakens the argument that any cop’s conduct was reckless or grossly negligent. This is not something that somebody could reasonably foresee.”
Banzhaf, who is most famous for helping to get smoking ads removed from television, also said that the autopsy indicates that it will be “very, very hard” for prosecutors to prove that the officers had the state of mind required to match the charges. Mosby, a rookie prosecutor, initially announced 26 felony charges against the six officers involved in the case. Goodson, Jr. faces the heftiest charge: second-degree depraved-heart murder. Three other officers face manslaughter charges. Two bicycle cops who helped arrest Gray are charged with second-degree assault.
As for the murder and manslaughter charges, Banzhaf says that prosecutors must prove that the officers acted with either gross negligence or recklessness. The medical examiner’s claim that Gray’s injury were due to “acts of omission” and were “not an unforeseen event” matches “the language of simple negligence,” according to Banzhaf.
“That’s far short of gross negligence,” he said. “Certainly far, far short of recklessness which is required for the major charge against Goodson.”
Banzhaf also weighed in on the toxicology report which found that Gray had opiods and cannabinoids in his system when he was taken to the hospital following his arrest.
He said that Gray having drugs in his system does not necessarily justify his arrest since officers did not find drugs on him. However, drugs “would explain not only why [Gray] was so combative” but also why he would stand up in the back of the police van, Banzhaf said.
Gray was reportedly yelling and kicking after being put in the police van.
Other experts have weighed in on Gray’s autopsy.
Cyril Wecht, a well-known forensic pathologist who worked for O.J. Simpson’s defense team, told The Sun that the autopsy was damning for the six officers.
“This is unacceptable conduct and behavior for these officers,” Wecht told the paper. “The more and more we learn, it seems consistent with [the theory]” that Gray was the victim of what’s known as a “rough ride.”
A “rough ride” is where a police officer suddenly decelerates in order to cause injury to a prisoner riding restrained in the back of a police vehicle.
Another famous forensic pathologist disagreed with Wecht’s assessment.
Vincent Di Maio, who has worked on numerous high-profile cases, including for George Zimmerman’s defense team, said that he disagreed with the medical examiner’s determination that Gray’s death was a homicide.
“It would have been more appropriate to classify this case as either an accident or undetermined,” Di Maio told Baltimore’s WYPR on Wednesday.
He also added that even if Gray’s death was a homicide, it did not necessarily mean that a crime occurred.
“We rule homicide lots of times, and it’s not even criminal,” Di Maio said.
In his interview with TheDC, Banzhaf opined on Mosby’s public statements on the case in light of information from the autopsy.
“The fact that Mosby issued the charges just after receiving the report and perhaps not having much chance to review it, not having a chance to review it with medical consultants … again gives rise to the rush to judgment argument that has been made,” Banzhaf said. (RELATED: Law Prof: Baltimore Officers Were Overcharged, Charges Will Likely Be Dismissed)
Mosby has been roundly criticized for her handling of the case. She has been accused of rushing to judgement and overcharging the officers in order to appease protesters. She’s also been accused of making extrajudicial statements that portray the officers in an unfairly bad light.
“She deliberately downplayed the uncertainties in the report, gaps in the report,” Banzhaf said, noting that Mosby was very precise when she announced charges against the cops and presented herself as knowing exactly what happened following Gray’s arrest.
“I think that many people, particular if you’re not a trained attorney, who heard her statement got the impression that everything was pretty damn clear.”
“Her statement was somewhat misleading,” the professor said.