Despite months of denials by top city officials, a new report confirms Baltimore police officers trying to do their duty during the April riots that rocked the city were ordered not to engage the mob to protect businesses being threatened by violence, even when they were under direct attack themselves.
According to The Baltimore Sun, police commanders now admit they told officers to “hold the line” and not engage rioters several times on the day of the funeral for Freddie Gray, the man whose death in police custody sparked the violence.
In a report posted late Tuesday that got national exposure on Tuesday night’s “The Kelly File,” commanders said the order was given to “protect officers and citizens as they prioritized life over property.”
The Sun’s report contradicts the city’s Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts numerous statements that officers had never been given a stand-down order. The Sun reported:
Commanders told The Sun that they asked officers to “hold the line” as part of an overall deployment strategy to create a barrier between rioters and police operations and potentially vulnerable people. If officers broke lines during a face-off with rock-throwing protesters, for instance, they could be isolated and surrounded by mobs. And if officers broke the line to make arrests, they might have been forced to guard them amid all the chaos when transport vans weren’t available.
“There’s an amount of discipline necessary to navigate your way through a civil disturbance,” Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis said.
But some officers say they should have been able to break their shoulder-to-shoulder lines and charge rioters, make arrests and quell the disturbance. The police union supports their claims, and the organization is expected to release an “after action report” in the coming weeks that should include many first-hand accounts from officers.
The union has requested texts, emails and radio transmissions between police commanders and City Hall for review. As of Tuesday, the union had received only one tape from the voluminous riot transmission record.
The police union’s president, Lt. Gene Ryan, said the Police Department could clear up any misconceptions or rumors by releasing the requested communications.
“If they have nothing to hide — and they always talk about being transparent — how come they haven’t given me the tapes of the radio transmissions?” Ryan said. “If they have nothing to hide, why not give me what we asked them for?”
Police have said they will share information, and both the agency and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake say they have called for their own probes into how deployments were handled.
Attorney Warren S. Alperstein, who represents some of the officers injured during the riots who have filed workers compensations claims, told the Sun that the orders put officer’s lives in danger.
“At Mondawmin, they were getting pummeled there, and there were commanders behind them saying ‘Don’t engage,’” he said.
Wicomico County Sheriff Michael A. Lewis told the Sun his officers heard the orders not to engage rioters from Baltimore city police officials.
“I never heard the order ‘stand down,'” Lewis said. “What I heard was ‘hold the line, hold the line, retreat, retreat,’ as guys were shouting, ‘They’re hitting us with bottles; they’re hitting us with bricks.’”
“Police officers screaming on the radio,” he said. ”Everybody could hear what was going on. Those guys getting their asses kicked. I repeatedly heard, ‘Hold the line, hold the line. Do not go after them.'”
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