05/05/2015 02:39 pm ET Updated May 05, 2016

Loretta Lynch Promises Police Reform In Baltimore

(Adds quotes and details from attorney general and Baltimore mayor)

BALTIMORE, May 5 (Reuters) - New U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday met with Baltimore officials and the family of a 25-year-old black man who died of injuries sustained in police custody last month and vowed to help the city pursue police reform.

Lynch visited Baltimore days after the city's chief prosecutor brought criminal charges, including one murder charge, against six officers involved in the April 12 arrest of Freddie Gray. He suffered a spinal injury and died in hospital a week later.

Gray's death was the latest in a series of unarmed black men involving police officers across the United States and provoked weeks of largely peaceful protests punctuated by a day of arson and looting in Baltimore on April 27.

"This is a flashpoint situation," Lynch told a group of officials after a private meeting with the Gray family. "We lost a young man's life and it begins to represent so many things."

Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby said last Friday that there had been no legal basis for Gray's arrest. The state medical examiner ruled Gray's death a homicide.

Gray fled from a police officer after making eye contact and when he was caught, officers repeatedly ignored his pleas for medical help while he was handcuffed, shackled and lying face down in the back of a police van, the prosecutor said.

Lynch said the Justice Department would work with the city on improving its police department.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake thanked Lynch.

"I have worked on this issue for years," Rawlings-Blake said of improving relations between police the community in the mostly black city of 620,000 people. "We can't afford to fail. The relationship between police and the community is like a marriage."

Lynch was accompanied by Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, and Ronald Davis, director of its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS.

Lynch also met with Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and she spoke to a dozen officers preparing for duty.

"To all of you on the front lines, I want to thank you. You really have become the face of law enforcement," Lynch said. "We are here to help you work through these struggles." (Reporting by a pool reporter in Baltimore and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott and Grant McCool)



Baltimore Protests