US probes death of black Baltimore man in police custody from spinal injuries

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Department of Justice said Wednesday it has opened a civil rights investigation into the death of an African-American man in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland.

Tensions are running high in the Mid-Atlantic city of 620,000 after Freddie Gray, 25, died of spinal cord injuries on Sunday.

He had been arrested on April 12 without force and later charged with possession of a switchblade knife, according to a police report.

Gray's family participated Tuesday in a third night of protests in Baltimore, the latest flashpoint in an intense national debate about police and race prompted by the Aug 9 death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

"The Department of Justice has been monitoring the developments in Baltimore regarding the death of Freddie Gray," a Department of Justice spokeswoman in Washington told AFP by e-mail.

"Based on preliminary information, the Department of Justice has officially opened this matter and is gathering information to determine whether any prosecutable civil rights violation occurred."

Six police officers in Baltimore - a Democratic stronghold where the mayor and police chief are black - remain suspended with pay pending the outcome of a police investigation.