By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — New developments in the Freddie Gray case. Several of the officers want charges thrown out, claiming there’s nothing criminal about failing to put seat belts on inmates in vans.

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren with a look inside the vans.

This is a central issue in the case. And while police policy here in Baltimore mandates officers belt passengers in, that’s not the case in most of Maryland. Some argue it’s for officer safety.

Three of the officers charged in Freddie Gray’s death say there’s nothing illegal about failing to make an inmate wear a seat belt.

It’s a controversial argument, raising new questions about how these vans are used.

“The concern among law enforcement officers is there are very, very tight quarters in the back of those vans. And when they have to get very close to strap someone in, if the prisoner is violent, the likelihood of being spit in the face, and, or being being kicked in the knee or being bitten goes up dramatically,” said Rob Weinhold, Fallston Group.

You can see just how cramped the vans are inside.

“We actually have seat belts we use to restrain them in once we put them inside, just like a regular seat belt. We put them inside, we put the seat belt on them, we pull it tight to make sure they’re secure,” an officer explained.

In other counties–like Harford, Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore–the transport vans don’t even have seat belts.

“At no point was he secured in a seat belt in the wagon contrary to a BPD general order,” said Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City State’s Attorney.

The order the state’s attorney refers to in Baltimore City requires a seat belt or restraining device around the inmate’s waist. It’s dated just nine days before Gray’s arrest, and has not changed since.

But officers’ lawyers point out in a new motion, they “…have no statutory duty to seat belt a prisoner in [the] back of a transport van.” And “…a police transport van is…not required to be equipped with seat belts under the federal motor vehicle safety standards.”

“Without a hard and fast case where some court before has already decided this exact issue, it’s a hard burden to overcome,” said Adam Ruther, Rosenberg, Martin, Greenberg.

For now, the fist of six separate trials in the Gray case is scheduled to start October 13.


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