Baltimore Mayor Fires Police Chief in Wake of Freddie Gray's Death, Riots

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From left: Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake take questions at a community meeting on July 29, 2014. James Lawler Duggan/Reuters

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blakefired veteran Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, who had led the department for the past three years. In recent weeks, he had been highly criticized for the leadership during the riots that broke out in the wake of 25-year-old Freddie Gray's death in April.

"We need a change. This was not an easy decision, but it is one that is in the best interest of the people of Baltimore. The people of Baltimore deserve better," Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday at a press conference.

The Baltimore Police Department didn't immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment. Batts had been confirmed to a full six-year term last September, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Rawlings-Blake credited Batts with helping to modernize the police force, putting more officers on the streets during peak periods of crime and bringing transparency and accountability to policing.

"But as we have seen in recent weeks," she added, "too many continue to die on our streets." Three people were shot to death on Tuesday night, and another person died early Wednesday, ahead of the mayor's announcement. Also on Wednesday, the Fraternal Order of Police issued a critical report of police leadership during the recent rioting following Gray's death, the Sun reported.

Rawlings-Blake didn't mention Gray in her announcement. The man was arrested on April 12 and died seven days later from a spinal injury he sustained while in police custody. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear, but cell phone video captured by witnesses shows officers pinning Gray to the ground at the scene of his arrest. His death set off days of unrest in the community and around the country.

An autopsy later revealed that Gray was subjected to a "high-energy injury" when the police van suddenly decelerated. His death was ruled a homicide.

A month after the man's death, Baltimore City State Attorney Marilyn Mosby indicted six Baltimore police officers allegedly involved in the incident. At the request of Rawlings-Blake and other officials, the U.S. Department of Justice decided to review the practices and procedures of Baltimore's police force. The investigation became the latest in a string of recent reviews into law enforcement agencies around the country.

Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis immediately replaced Batts and is now serving as interim commissioner.