More and more, it’s looking like Freddie Gray was first injured on the scene, but his deadly fate wasn’t sealed until police took him for ‘a ride.’
It turns out Baltimore police are notorious for giving suspects ‘rough rides’ to the precinct, and laughing about it.
There were rumors of it from the beginning: Was Freddie Gray a victim of one of Baltimore’s infamous “rough rides”?
They paralyzed one man in 2005, and the city has paid out millions in settlements over these “rides,” in which, after arresting a person, police toss the handcuffed man or woman into the back of a van, not bothering to secure him or her with a seat belt. Officers then take these people on a journey, fast and rough, with jagged, abrupt turns, leaving them jostling around in the van like rag dolls, slamming uncontrollably against the sides of the vehicle. During the ride, the driver will slam on the brakes, causing arrestees to crash into the walls or, if they’re on a gurney, to fall off.
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University of South Carolina professor Geoffrey Alpert, an expert in police force, said rough rides are also known as “screen tests.” When police cars or vans had screens between the front and back seats, drivers would stop short — “to avoid a dog” — sending a handcuffed prisoner flying face-first into the screen, he said. “Cops used to laugh about it. That was big in the 1980s and 1990s,” Alpert said. “It was obviously against policy and illegal. I remember in some trainings that police chiefs would say, ‘You’d better bring the damn dog you were trying to avoid if you come in with a prisoner with such an injury.’”
And how long have police been doing this?
“Rough rides” have a lengthy history. Called “nickel rides” or “cowboy rides” in other regions, police use them as a “witness-free” way to deliver “street justice” to suspects they view as unruly or rude.
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“[They] have been around since [the] late ’60s and ’70s in Baltimore. They used to be called rodeos. And the paddy wagon then was like a 10-foot U-Haul and sometimes you would go flying out of the truck,” said Michael Eugene Johnson, who works for the Paul Robeson Center for Social Justice.
Numerous lawsuits have been brought against the BPD because of these rough rides. A report by the Baltimore Sun found that the city has paid millions to victims, like the family of 43-year-old plumber Dondi Johnson Sr. Johnson was left paralyzed in 2005 after being recklessly driven around by police, leading to a $7.4 million settlement.
Priceless. Police commit the crimes, taxpayers pay for it.