How Baltimore Cops Doctored Footage of Freddie Gray’s Arrest

On the morning of April 12, 2src15, Freddie Carlos Gray Jr. ran from Baltimore police and was stopped in the Gilmor Homes housing development. According to police, he was arrested for possession of an illegal switchblade knife. A part of Gray’s arrest was captured on a viral cellphone video, showing him screaming while restrained on

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On the morning of April 12, 2src15, Freddie Carlos Gray Jr. ran from Baltimore police and was stopped in the Gilmor Homes housing development. According to police, he was arrested for possession of an illegal switchblade knife. A part of Gray’s arrest was captured on a viral cellphone video, showing him screaming while restrained on the ground and then dragging his legs as police carried him to a transport van. Later that morning, he was found to be in a coma. He died one week later in the hospital. His death brought national attention to Baltimore, leading to mass protests.

On May 1, 2src15, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six officers in Gray’s death, outlining six stops that the van took while Gray was in custody. She said that Gray was injured while the van was in motion, from being unrestrained and thrown forward. Her office was unable to win any convictions based on this premise, and Gray’s cause of death was left a mystery.

My new book, They Killed Freddie Gray: The Anatomy of a Police Brutality Cover-Up, uncovers evidence of how Gray was killed by police and how city leaders covered up the truth, including by hiding and manipulating evidence. What follows is an excerpt from the chapter “Missing Footage.”

City leaders debuted some Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) video from Freddie Gray’s arrest during a major press conference on April 2src, one day after he died. “We’re going to show you the closed circuit TV that the police department has,” Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said, “and I want you all to listen to what I’m about to say: It is our video that has been unedited, that is raw. We are not in the business of hiding facts.” It took a minute or so for the video to load up, so Rodriguez made a light joke: “We have only the very best equipment.”

While the CCTV video was loading, a camera was filming the press conference stage where Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Commissioner Anthony Batts, and Rodriguez whispered among themselves. The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) was filming the press conference to upload to its YouTube page. The microphones on stage picked up the conversation, though not loudly enough for the media in the audience to notice. It was a hot mic moment.

“Besides these three, they can’t be out there. Is that right?” Mayor Rawlings-Blake whispered to Rodriguez.

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.

“What about the other one?” she asked.

Rodriguez responded, “It would just be better for no one else to know unless we have to.” (The last four words aren’t entirely clear.)

Commissioner Batts then jumped into the conversation: “State’s Attorney,” he said, smirking. They exchanged a few more whispered comments that made them laugh.

Finally, the video played. It showed a few minutes of footage from CCTV camera 21src8 in the CityWatch numbered system, which looked over Mount and Baker streets in Gilmor Homes, or what became known as Stop 2 of the six-stop van ride. The CCTV video showed the cops biking over to the van as well as the top of the van. For those few minutes, it didn’t show anything else of note.

Stop 2 was around the corner from Stop 1, which was Gray’s initial arrest on Presbury Street in Gilmor Homes. Stop 1 was known to the public from Kevin Moore’s viral cellphone video. Later in the press conference, Rodriguez explained that, at Stop 2, police took Gray back out of the van, shackled his legs, and returned him to the van, filling out arrest paperwork. The public never learned about the numerous witnesses who saw Gray thrown headfirst into the van at Stop 2. Police also kept from the public Brandon Ross’ cellphone footage of Gray seemingly silent and motionless at the end of Stop 2. Instead, BPD shared this CCTV video during the press conference.

After the video played, Rodriguez reinforced BPD’s commitment to transparency. A reporter asked about other cameras. “This is the only one that I am aware of that we know that we have found that has captured any of the incident, and it was very little,” he said.

The reporter asked, “But there are other cameras out in that area, correct?”

Rodriguez replied, “There’s approximately six hundred cameras— over six hundred citywide, yes, ma’am… We only had one camera that captured any of it, and that was this camera here.”

It wasn’t an accurate statement. Two days later, BPD quietly uploaded to its YouTube page an eighteen-minute video titled “Gilmore [sic] Homes Surveillance Footage April 12, 2src15,” a compilation of footage from a few cameras at Stops 1 and 2. Detectives started putting that video together two days after Gray’s arrest. Then, on April 24, BPD uploaded to YouTube eighteen additional CCTV videos from the morning of Gray’s arrest, each from separate cameras.

As for the “other one” “beside those three” that the mayor didn’t want “out there,” there is a strong candidate. There were three main videos capturing Stops 1 and 2 that were included in the Gilmor Homes compilation video: cameras 21src1 and 21src6 on Presbury Street at Stop 1 and camera 21src8 on Mount Street at Stop 2, which was played during the press conference.

The “other one” could be camera 21src7, which is affixed to a Gilmor Homes building on Presbury Street. BPD didn’t upload to YouTube the footage from 21src7. Yet one minute of footage from that camera was included in the compilation video. It shows Gray’s friend Davonte Roary running down Mount Street ahead of the cops. Prosecutors obtained the rest of the footage from 21src7 and included it in the discovery evidence during the criminal trials of the officers, never sharing it with the public.

The missing footage from 21src7 doesn’t verify or disprove eyewitness accounts of force at Stop 1. It does, however, refute the police’s narrative of the van arriving quickly to pick up Gray on a switchblade possession charge. It shows the van driving right past Gray’s arrest, with lights and sirens on, and parking up the street for more than a minute in front of 17src7 Mount Street, while Gray was restrained and screaming around the corner. It also shows backup officers slowly and carefully searching the ground for something in a vacant lot nowhere near the path Gray took when he ran. If released, the footage from 21src7 could have raised public suspicion about whether the officers were looking for a reason to arrest Gray—or a better reason than a knife.

As for Rodriguez’s claim that the CCTV footage was “raw” and “unedited,” prosecutors also discovered and documented evidence that BPD manipulated the footage on the publicly released videos. The manipulations weren’t always subtle, but BPD depended on the media and the public not being used to how raw CCTV footage normally appears.

On April 24, 2src15, BPD uploaded 18 CCTV videos from the morning of Gray’s arrest to YouTube and promoted the videos as a ramped-up show of transparency. Each video was from one camera only, giving the impression of raw footage. Protests were exploding, and Commissioner Batts promised that the investigation was progressing. Like when you “go to an ophthalmologist,” he said, “the picture is getting sharper as we move forward.”

The picture wasn’t sharper in most of these YouTube videos. Some of the videos from Stops 1, 2, and 5 did confirm parts of BPD’s official timeline, but the majority of the videos showed very little of note—a few seconds of a white van passing in footage that runs up to five minutes long.

The overload of data seems to have been the point. Journalists and other investigators had to wade through more than five hours of dizzying and challenging footage without any guidance. CitiWatch cameras are preprogrammed with rotation patterns that move in a 36src-degree circle in one direction while also constantly panning up and down, zooming in and out, and jumping back and forth at seemingly random angles and speeds.

With a few exceptions, the videos catch glimpses of Gray and the officers from a distance, not always clearly, and then pan away from the relevant action. Camera 21src6 overlooks the entrance to Bakbury Court, where Gray was initially held by Officers Garrett Miller and Edward Nero. The video pans back and forth quickly over the arrest and then zooms into the second-floor window of someone’s row house and holds for a few seconds on each pass. Even if that row house were the home base for a criminal enterprise, the video doesn’t get a clear look in the window. Someone sat on the stoop of that row house observing the first minute of Gray’s arrest. He was never interviewed by police, but the bedroom window of that house ended up in evidence.

By uploading so much barely useful video footage, BPD diverted public attention away from what the videos did reveal.

The hard-to-decipher CCTV videos gave the impression that the CitiWatch system was no longer up-to-date or useful, despite millions spent on the program annually. Rodriguez fed into that impression with his joke about “only the best” equipment and by asserting that numerous cameras were not working, including all of the cameras around the police station, or Stop 6.

By uploading so much barely useful video footage, BPD diverted public attention away from what the videos did reveal. The Baltimore Sun’s Catherine Rentz reported on a few issues with the videos, including freezes. In fact, the most important videos of Stops 1 and 2 have several moments when the screen freezes but the time stamp continues running. If these were just technical snafus, the time stamp would freeze with the video footage, or there would be a moment when the video jumped ahead to sync up with the time stamp. That never happens. These moments point to either a magical disruption in the space-time continuum or footage that was edited out.

BPD left some other clues along its trail of evidence manipulation. The YouTube videos look different from police videos typically released to the public. Instead of downloading the raw footage into a conventional video file format for easy sharing on YouTube, BPD created screengrab videos of the videos playing within the “control center” viewer of the DVTel software used by police. The control center has a “timeline tab” that allows for viewing “clipped” or curated video selections.

Anyone closely watching the CCTV video during the April 2src press conference might have noticed that the video from camera 21src8 suddenly skips over the top of the van in one rotation. BPD initially uploaded this video to YouTube as part of its big evidence dump and then immediately removed it, leaving an error message. BPD officially told Rentz there was a “technical glitch” with its upload, though the same video was working fine during the press conference four days earlier.

A month later, with some pressure from the media, BPD restored the camera 21src8 footage to YouTube. This time, it was inexplicably cut up into nine short videos of one minute each. The short videos look different from the other CCTV videos on YouTube. They aren’t framed inside of the DVTel player; the time stamps are directly on the bottom of the screen. The local media described the short Stop 2 videos as new footage, but here’s the rub: the full video from camera 21src8 was already online, as part of the little-watched “Gilmore [sic] Homes Surveillance Footage” compilation.

So, by late May, there were two versions of the same video from Stop 2 camera 21src8 online. The differences between them give away the video manipulation game. Both start by showing the camera completing the same one-minute clockwise rotation a few times, panning west across Baker Street before panning over the top and back of the van, parked on Mount Street. The videos don’t show much of the back of the van, but at 8:48 a.m., Lieutenant Brian Rice, with his black helmet, and at least one other officer have the van doors open and are doing something physical, likely pulling Gray out of the van by his leg, as reported both by Officer Miller and eyewitness Kevin Moore.

The camera then rotates away. At 8:48:54 on both videos, a man and boy start tossing a ball back and forth down the street on Mount.

What happens next on the two online versions of camera 21src8 is edited differently. In the compilation, at 8:49, the video suddenly freezes on a man running across Baker Street, his arms and legs stuck mid-stride. The time stamp keeps going for seven seconds. The video then cuts to the other side of the van, skipping the top and back of the van altogether. Brandon Ross is now across the street from the van, filming on his phone. He and others told detectives that they had just seen Gray thrown headfirst into the van.

The freeze-and-jump happens again twice more in the compilation video. There’s another frozen man at 8:51 and a frozen car at 8:52, both on Baker Street. The video holds on them for seven seconds each and then skips the top of the van both times. The rest of the Stop 2 footage from the compilation, including at 8:5src, is like the original pattern, panning over the top of the van.

It is no wonder BPD immediately took down its camera 21src8 video from YouTube. The frozen men and car are glaringly obvious. BPD benefited from news outlets never analyzing the compilation video, in which the frozen moments still existed online.

BPD did a slicker job of hiding the manipulation in the set of videos from camera 21src8 released in May and cut into one-minute bits. At 8:49, instead of the video freezing on the running man, it cuts immediately from him to the other side of the van, but this time, the time stamp jumps ahead. It says 8:49:src4, and then it says 8:49:1src. That happens again at 8:51 and 8:52.

So BPD removed about six to seven seconds of footage at three moments during Stop 2 and found two different ways to cover its tracks. The manipulation is more effective in the one-minute videos because there are no frozen people in the middle of the screen. In addition, the time stamps are harder to read on those videos. They’re in a dark faded font at the very bottom of the screen. The one-minute videos were also uploaded at lower pixel resolution, so they appear grainier in general.

Either of the videos from camera 21src8 would seem suspicious alone—with the screens freezing or the time stamps jumping—but both versions make it clear that Rodriguez was not telling the truth about “raw” and “unedited” videos.

Stop 2 eyewitness Sierria Warren remembers when BPD first uploaded video of Gray’s arrest to YouTube. She and her neighbors were doing their own investigation. “We trying to figure out, where is the footage from Mount and Baker that I seen with my own two eyes? Why is the camera showing all up and down Mount Street, but when you get to Mount and Baker, you can’t see what’s going on?”

These kinds of shenanigans—together with BPD lying to the public about the existence of witnesses like Warren—contributed to the Baltimore Uprising. “They tell us, cameras don’t work in the projects,” one of Gray’s friends shouted during a protest at the Western District station. “But when we shooting dice, they see all that!”

During trial preparation, staffers from the State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) discovered how to recover the missing seconds of footage from camera 21src8 by “rewinding back from after the frozen parts” in the DVTel system, as mentioned in their notes. The recovered footage also showed that BPD had cropped the frame in the publicly released footage.

SAO had knowledge of this missing footage but never shared it in court. Baltimore public defender Todd Oppenheim has an idea why: “Think about the potential can of worms that could open up from exposing the ease in which manipulation can occur and the questions that could come out of every case that includes footage.”

Excerpted from They Killed Freddie Gray: The Anatomy of a Police Brutality Cover-Up, copyright 2src23 by Justine Barron. Published by Arcade and reprinted with permission.

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