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Baltimore Protesters Go Free as Arrest Paperwork Backs Up

As many as 101 people arrested during the Baltimore riots were released Wednesday night because the deadline for them to be charged expired.
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/ Source: NBC News

Dozens of people arrested in violent demonstrations this week in Baltimore were being released early Wednesday evening because police were unable to complete their paperwork in time, the state public defender's office said.

As many as 101 detainees began walking free without charges about the same time that Baltimore police announced that their report into the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man who died in police custody this month, wouldn't be made public Friday.

Police Commissioner Anthony Batts had set a deadline of Friday to file the report with state investigators. Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said Wednesday night that the report would remain closed to protect the integrity of the inquiry.

Thousands of people crammed the area around City Hall in a so-far peaceful rally Wednesday night ahead of a 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew that was imposed Tuesday. The curfew was ordered after protests turned violent Monday night after Gray's funeral.

As the curfew resumed Wednesday night at 10 o'clock, the city's streets again started to clear. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, walked the streets with a bullhorn, imploring people: "Let's go home."

The public defender, a government agency that represents suspects who have no lawyer, had filed habeas corpus petitions demanding that people arrested Monday night be released if they weren't formally charged within 24 hours. No court has "amended or changed the rules that require these important safeguards," it said.

Early Wednesday evening, many of those detained began streaming out of the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center.

The releases were the result of a logjam for police who were scrambling to pull the necessary paperwork to file charges at the same time they were trying to keep peace on the city's streets, Kowalczyk said.

Batts, the police commissioner, told reporters Wednesday night: "We've come up on a timeline. We are releasing them with future prosecution in mind. ... We're not giving up on them."

Kowalczyk's comments followed earlier statements in which Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sought to soften her description of people involved in the unrest as "thugs."

"When you speak out of frustration and anger, one can say things in a way that you don't mean," the mayor said on Twitter. "That night we saw misguided young people who need to be held accountable, but who also need support. And my comments then didn't convey that."

Meanwhile, the White House has weighed in on the video of Toya Graham, the Baltimore woman who chased her son away from confronting police on Monday, calling it "a powerful expression about the role that parents can play."


"The thing that resonated with me is — was her expression that she was concerned about her son facing the same fate as Freddie Gray," spokesman Josh Earnest said. "And while I'm sure that it was not the immediate reaction of her son to feel like she was looking out for his best interest, there is no doubting that her reaction was one that was rooted in her concern for his safety and his well-being and her love for her child."

More than 3,000 National Guard, Maryland State Police and other law enforcement officers remained on alert before the second night of the curfew. Gov. Larry Hogan welcomed the peaceful response to the curfew Tuesday, but he said early Wednesday evening: "We are not out of the woods yet."

Similar protests were being organized in other cities. Hundreds of protesters marched Tuesday night through Washington, D.C., and the South Side of Chicago. And in New York, a rally in Union Square was under way Wednesday night "to show the people of Baltimore that we stand in solidarity with them and with their resistance," the group Millions March said. Police told NBC New York that about 60 people had been arrested.

In Minneapolis, as many as 2,000 people marched peacefully Wednesday night over the Father Louis Hennepin Bridge across the Mississippi River. Police closed the bridge and escorted the marches, some of whom were carrying a black coffin.

"We'd like to thank the general public for a safe evening," a police spokesman said.

Other rallies were planned Wednesday night near Boston and Thursday night in Cincinnati, Ohio.