Alicia White, one of the “Baltimore Six,” is a different person than the one painted by prosecutors in the Freddie Gray case. State’s Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, in a move that was universally criticized by most in the legal profession, including those with a liberal bent, criminally charged her.
White is still under legal counsel to limit her comments, but she spoke to Justin Fenton, a reporter with the Baltimore Sun. The 30-year old, African American female, promoted to police sergeant shortly before the Freddie Gray incident, did not deserve the ruthlessness unleashed on her. Nor did the other five Baltimore PD employees for that matter.
For the past 18 months, her co-defendants either went to trial or were called to the stand to testify while she awaited her own trial. During this time, the stress led to one visit to the hospital and ended the engagement to her fiancé. After three acquittals for her peers, the charges against her were dropped.
While the Internal Affairs investigation looms, she hopes one day she will return to work the streets in the city of Baltimore.
“I still believe that, when I went to work that day, I did everything that I was trained to do,” White said in a series of interviews with The Baltimore Sun. “Unfortunately, that day someone lost their life. But I feel like everything I was trained to do, I did.”
White attended a Catholic parochial school and had a Baptist background. She is known as a person that regularly attends church. To many residents and peers, she was the dedicated community resource officer who worked long hours at the children’s center, or the rising star that swiftly promoted to sergeant.
Her future looked bright until 15-20 seconds standing near a vehicle transporting an arrestee pulled her into what most referred to as a politically charged prosecution to appease an angry mob.
“I don’t understand why on earth she was charged; I’ve never understood why she was charged,” said her attorney, Ivan Bates. “Maybe from some standpoint you have three black officers, you have three white officers. Or maybe you wanted to make sure you charged a woman. Maybe you wanted to charge a black woman.”
Prosecutors say they dropped White’s case along with two others, following a judge’s acquittal of three of the defendants, only because they believe the judicial system was stacked against them.
Apparently they disregarded the fact that Judge Barry Williams, a black man, had previous experience prosecuting police misconduct cases for the U.S. Justice Department.
White, who was placed on unpaid leave from the force after she was charged, said no one in the community ever had a cross word with her about the case. She believes that’s because of the goodwill she had built up over 30 years growing up, working and worshipping in West Baltimore.
While tensions continued to boil in Baltimore, supporters say those who still hold White responsible, however, “don’t know who she is. They don’t know the story,” said Lt. Lisa Robinson, a mentor and the president of the Vanguard Justice Society, an organization for black police officers.
White was raised in West Baltimore. With the exception of her time at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, she has lived in that same home with her mother.
She was raised an only child in a Baptist household and recalls family dinners and her parents attending her school events together. At age 11, she lost her father — a Maryland Transit Administration bus driver — to lung cancer. He had asked to be at home instead of hospice when he died, according to White’s aunt, Marian Haggerty. White said she watched him die.
That left White and her mother, a bank teller, on their own. She attended public elementary school before switching to parochial schools, starting with the former St. Mary of the Assumption in Govans, then Mercy High School in Northeast Baltimore.
“She was the one who always led us in prayer,” former classmate Brittany Ripple recalls. “If there was a conflict, she was the one to step in and resolve it.”
She had a reputation of being neat and orderly.
White attended UMES, a historically black college. Law enforcement was not her goal. Yet she responded to recruitment efforts by the Baltimore Police Department, which was looking to boost its female ranks.
White said she’s never had bad interactions with police and looked up to the officers who attended her neighborhood’s community meetings. “I thought, ‘There has to be a way to give back and serve. What better place than my own community?'” she said.
After completing the police academy in 2010, her first assignment in patrol was the Northeastern District, where she later became a neighborhood services officer. Although there have been critical reports about the police department, White insists that she hasn’t witnessed those problems as a civilian or officer. “I’ve had cases where I went to people’s houses and they were on the verge of about to take their life, and I was able to talk to them,” White said. “They were like, ‘I’m glad you showed up.’ It’s not always about arresting somebody. It comes with the job, but it’s also other aspects of policing.”
Councilman Brandon Scott said people at the community children’s center would “welcome her back with open arms.”
“I know her character,” he said. “This is someone I trust with my life and, more importantly, that we entrust with the lives of young people in the neighborhood.”
After serving in the neighborhood unit, White desired to promote. Robinson, the Vanguard Justice Society president, said White would sit in her office after hours and go over materials for the promotional exam. “I saw her as being police commissioner one day,” Robinson said. “I still see her that way.”
White made the sergeants’ list and in January 2015 was promoted to supervisor. Her new assignment would be her home district of West Baltimore.
Sadly, within four months, her gun and badge would be taken away.
Charged with manslaughter and facing up to 25 years in prison, she had suddenly become the face of bad policing in Baltimore.
White described the arrest of Freddie Gray as a routine encounter. He had been chased and arrested by officers near Gilmor Homes in West Baltimore. White received word of citizen complaints regarding his arrest, so she ventured out to North Avenue to follow-up on the situation.
While standing near the open doors of the arrest van, she said she asked Gray if there was a problem. “I’m like ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ Like, ‘What happened?’ And he wasn’t saying anything. He was just kind of like not responding,” White told investigators in her first interview. “So I just figured at that point, he was like — just didn’t want to cooperate.”
But the entire criminal case seemed to rest on the fact that Gray was not restrained in place by a seat belt—something far short of murder or manslaughter—and consequently suffered an injury that cost him his life.
White said she didn’t see a reason to seek medical attention at that time. She said the other officers told her Gray had “jailitis,” a term for uncooperative arrestees hoping to go to the hospital instead of jail.
But when the van arrived at the Western District, officers said they found Gray not breathing in the back. White called for a medic.
Already suspended during the police investigation, White was working a desk job at headquarters when State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced the charges against the officers on the steps of the War Memorial building downtown.
White said it had never occurred to her that she would be implicated; she hadn’t even consulted a lawyer. Soon thereafter she called her attorney. Bates answered his cell phone and heard a woman’s inconsolable voice. “I need help,” she told him. “I didn’t do anything. Please help me.”
Bates declared that White did not see anything medically wrong and was not trained to recognize the type of severe internal injuries an autopsy showed Gray had suffered. And her interaction lasted just seconds, he said. Moreover, he said, other officers were in control of the arrest, and her supervisor, Lt. Brian Rice, was present.
When medics arrived at the Western district to treat Gray, they also did not believe he had a broken neck, but thought he may have overdosed and administered Narcan.
“If the medic that’s trained can’t recognize it, how could Sgt. Alicia White recognize at [North Avenue] that he was suffering those injuries?” Bates said. “If she thought something was wrong, she would’ve taken those extra steps.”
Already a workout nut, White found solace in her gym. But when she asked about potential employment there, the managers seemed reluctant, leaving her to feel she had too much baggage to be hired anywhere. She spent the time under indictment unemployed.
White has received support and encouragement from those who know her best. But the public stigma that she carries is embedded. Fortunately she is a person that hopes to rise above it all.
She is one of five officers charged in the case who are suing Mosby for defamation and invasion of privacy.
White, meanwhile, is eager to return to policing. She has received back pay since being cleared of criminal charges and is assigned to the police department’s training academy, though in an administrative role. An internal investigation, including what, if any, discipline she will face, has not yet concluded.
With police-race relations at the forefront in the daily news, and the Gray incident being a major story—White feels that she can still do right by the community. “That’s not every police. That’s not me,” she said. “This is home for me. So to be able to continue to help serve the community in which I grew up in, that’s important to me.”