As the streets of Baltimore quieted down Tuesday after a night of widespread looting and violence, the conservative blogosphere heated up with chatter that Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who died after sustaining a severe spinal injury in police custody, may have actually injured himself before his arrest.
A rumor that Gray had a pre-existing spinal injury from a car accident appears to have originated Tuesday with a blog post on the conservative website thefourthestate.co and then spread to other conservative sites like the Free Republic.
The post on thefourthestate.co cited “sources who allege that Freddie Gray received spinal and neck surgery a week before we [sic] was arrested, and was allegedly receiving a large structured settlement from Allstate Insurance.” The post also alleged that Gray received the surgery because he had been involved in a car accident.
By way of proof, the website cited Howard County, Maryland court records that showed Gray was recently involved in a civil case with Peachtree Settlement Funding. Allstate Life Insurance was listed as an interested party. Nothing in those records, which were publicly accessible online, indicated that Gray had been in a accident or had sustained a spinal injury.
The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday swiftly debunked the rumor by pulling the full court records related to the civil case.
The newspaper reported that paperwork had been filed in December to pay out an $18,000 settlement each to Gray and his sister. Billy Murphy, an attorney for Gray’s family, confirmed to the newspaper that those payouts stemmed from a 2008 lawsuit alleging that the two were exposed to dangerous levels of lead paint in their childhood home (the settlement in that suit was reached in 2010 and was not publicly disclosed).
Alternate theories blossomed on talk radio, too. A Baltimore-based conservative talk radio host also floated rumors — without presenting any evidence — about how Gray could have injured himself prior to his April 12 arrest in a segment flagged by The Intercept.
“I did hear that he may have when he was running away — because he had an illegal weapon in his pocket — he may have hit an 18 inch fence or so, something like that and fell,” longtime Baltimore radio personality Tom Marr speculated Tuesday.
“I’m hearing that Freddie Gray might have sustained an injury himself while fleeing from the police on March 20, 2015,” Marr continued. “What I’m hearing is is that in order to try to elude police he jumped from a window, possibly as high as three stories.”
Tellingly, Marr said he “didn’t have the time” to track down an arrest record for Gray on that date.