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Death of Baltimore man Freddie Gray in custody sparks call for independent inquiry

Family of man who suffered a broken neck after his arrest demand that the inquiry into his death be taken away from the city police

The family of a man who died after being arrested in Baltimore has called for the inquiry into his death to be taken away from city authorities, whose police officers they accuse of fatally injuring him.

Relatives of Freddie Gray told the Guardian on Sunday they want the US Department of Justice and FBI to take control of the investigation into how Gray’s neck was broken, apparently after he was detained by officers and loaded into a Baltimore police van.

“The officers who did this need to be arrested now, locked in jail and charged with murder,” said Gray’s sister, Carolina, in her first interview. “And this all needs to be investigated by separate police. How can Baltimore police look into their own?”

“The police are just going to look out for each other,” said Robert Darden, Gray’s uncle. “They need to get the federal government to investigate.” Protesters gathered on Sunday outside the police station in Baltimore where Gray was taken after his arrest.

Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, told a press conference on Sunday a criminal investigation into Gray’s death had been opened by city authorities. “I will ensure we will hold the right people accountable,” she said. The four officers involved in Gray’s arrest have also been placed on administrative leave pending an internal inquiry into their use of force.

Gray’s death came less than three weeks after a white police officer in South Carolina was charged with murder for fatally shooting Walter Scott, 50, as he ran away from a confrontation over a traffic stop. Scott’s death was only the latest in a series of police killings of unarmed black men to have prompted protests since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August.

Gray, 25, died on Sunday morning, a week after he was chased and arrested by officers on bicycles on Baltimore’s west side. Police have refused to disclose the alleged violation for which Gray, who was black, was stopped. His family said he was not charged with any crime. However a court filing from the day of his arrest, in which Gray’s name was spelled incorrectly, suggested he was charged with illegally carrying a knife.

Cellphone video recorded at the scene showed Gray shouting and moving his head as he was carried into a police van. Yet he was later found to have suffered three broken vertebrae. Gray lapsed into a coma and was brought back from the verge of death, before undergoing extensive surgery and eventually being declared dead on Sunday.

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“While in police custody, his spine was 80% severed at his neck,” William Murphy Jr, an attorney for Gray’s family, said in a statement on Sunday. “We believe the police are keeping the circumstances of Freddie’s death a secret until they develop a version of events that will absolve them of all responsibility.” Relatives said Gray’s voice box was injured and he suffered swelling to his brain.

A timeline of the arrest released by the police last week shows a half-hour gap between police departing a spot near the scene of the arrest with Gray in a prisoner van at 8.54am on 12 April, and paramedics being called to the western district police headquarters just three blocks away at 9.24am. Gray’s family alleges he must have been badly beaten during this time.

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