About 80 people who were arrested during protests and rioting that have roiled the city of Baltimore were released late Wednesday after spending two days in jail without ever being formally charged, and in many cases without ever being told why they had been taken into custody.
Baltimore police began releasing dozens of the people they arrested Monday night after protests over the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a severe spinal injury while in police custody. The protests escalated in the city just hours after Gray, 25, was eulogized, with some people throwing rocks and bottles at officers, multiple cars set on fire and a number of businesses looted.
Authorities initially said most of the arrests were for attacks on property and people, including officers, and that they would continue to work to hold people accountable, including reviewing video and social media accounts.
By Wednesday as officers struggled to complete the paperwork needed to charge more than 100 people who had been detained since the unrest began, officials began releasing most of them.
State court rules require persons arrested to have charges filed within 24 hours of their arrest and to go before a judicial official known as a court commissioner to hear the charges and generally have an opportunity for bail.
The usual 24-hour window was extended to 48 hours by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who had declared a state of emergency for the city after protests turned violent. But even so, police could not file charges to meet the deadline. And some defense attorneys were questioning whether Hogan had the authority to extend the time.
“I am concerned that this is going to further erode the public’s confidence in our criminal justice system,” said Natalie Finegar, the deputy public defender for Baltimore.
Saucha Robinson, 18 and a Coppin State University student, stood outside the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center on Wednesday waiting for her boyfriend. She was released from the facility about 7 p.m. after being detained for two days without formal charges, according to the public defender’s office.
Robinson said she was one of the many “innocents” arrested. “I understand what was going on out here,” Robinson said about the riots and violence.
“But it doesn’t mean that the process and paperwork should stop in there,” said Angelia Augustus, 29, another woman who was released Wednesday.
Robinson said she was arrested Monday around 9 p.m. as she was on her way to school. The early-education student said she was near Mondawmin Mall when she saw the police making arrests and she ran from them, she said.
“My initial instinct is to run from whatever is going on,” Robinson said.
Baltimore police spokesman Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said the large number of detentions flowed from the turmoil that erupted after Gray’s funeral.
Elected officials, including Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, had made it clear that any act of violence would be met with a swift response.
Although scores of people were released Wednesday, it does not mean they won’t face future arrest, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said at a news conference Wednesday night.
“We’re not giving up on them,” Batts said. “We’re just gonna follow up.”
For police and court officials, Wednesday included sorting through the arrests made over several days.
Dwayne Torrence of Baltimore was released shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday.
He said he’d never been given documents explaining his charges and was never brought before a court commissioner. He said the holding cell he stayed in was overcrowded and that many of those detained were getting angry.
Torrence said that on Monday, during the protests, he was talking to police officers when another group of officers suddenly appeared and began arresting people. He said he ran, was caught and was arrested. He said he thinks that police intended to charge him with disorderly conduct, but he doesn’t know why.
District courts in Baltimore were closed Tuesday because of the state of emergency put in place. But that closure did not affect the court commissioners, who continued to work at full staffing since Monday, said Terri Charles, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Judiciary.
Even with their usual round-the-clock presence, many of those arrested were not presented to the commissioners on charges — leading to their release.
“In order to criminally charge someone, we have to have the witnessing officer, we have to know the location and the time,” Kowalczyk said. “They have to fill out a document that details the probable cause for the arrest. As you saw Monday night . . . it was a very chaotic situation.”
Outside the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center on Wednesday, several family members and friends of people arrested in the past few days showed up, looking for answers of when they might be released.
“This is ridiculous,” said Andrew Rickers, 24, who said his fiancee, Rachel Fisher, was arrested Monday afternoon. He hadn’t heard from her since.
At one point, using a cellphone from a nearby bail bondsman, he spoke to officials inside the jail. He told an official he understood these were unusual circumstances but said Fisher had a right to see a court commissioner within 24 hours of arriving. “The law is the law,” Rickers told her.
In Maryland, there is essentially a two-step process for setting bonds. The first is done by a commissioner. Then, defendants who cannot make their bond and continue to be held in jail get a chance to have their bond reviewed by a judge. Some of the people arrested during the protests had such bond review hearings Wednesday, offering glimpses of police allegations.
They all beamed onto televisions appearing remotely for their bail reviews.
Men accused of filling bags with bottles from liquor stores. Women who said they were not at looted shops to steal but to track down their children amid the chaos. And alleged rioters who said they were on their way home but “at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The charges ranged from theft, looting, burglary and “fleeing with merchandise.”
At least one teen appeared before a judge Wednesday. She was charged with malicious destruction of property and burglary on Monday. The judge let her go. It was her first arrest.
“She appreciates that so she can go back to high school,” said her public defender.
The teen cheered and high-fived other women in the room with her after the judge said she could go.
Arelis Hernandez, Jennifer Jenkins and Perry Stein contributed to this report.