Baltimore on edge after mistrial in first Freddie Gray case

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A guide to Freddie Gray case after mistrial for 1st officer.

From downtown to West Baltimore, demonstrators gathered Wednesday, questioning why jurors did not convict Officer William G. BALTIMORE — The latest on the trial of a Baltimore police officer who is charged with manslaughter in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who was injured in the back of a police transport van (all times local). The Baltimore neighborhood that experienced the worst of April’s rioting after Freddie Gray’s funeral was calm in the hours after the mistrial of the first officer charged in Gray’s death. At least two people were arrested after Judge Barry Williams announced a mistrial in the case, but the protests remained peaceful as officials and advocates called for calm. The situation was quiet at North and Pennsylvania, the intersection where the worst rioting happened in April as parts of West Baltimore were set on fire.

Williams of the Baltimore City Circuit Court formally declared a mistrial shortly after 3 p.m., after a weary-looking jury of seven women and five men filed into his wood-paneled courtroom. At the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues — the epicenter of rioting that broke out in April on the day of Gray’s funeral — those who gathered made it clear they did not want more unrest. “We’re showing the youth that what happened earlier this year cannot happen again,” said Dominic Nell, 39, a Penn North resident, community activist and freelance photographer. “We’re coming together and bridging the gap.” As the Porter trial wore on, Baltimore officials prepared for the possibility of another outbreak of the rioting, looting and arson that followed Gray’s death from a spinal injury sustained in police custody. William Porter’s mistrial is a setback for prosecutors trying to respond to a citizenry frustrated by violent crime and allegations of police misconduct. The Justice Department has since launched a civil-rights investigation of the city’s police department, and the city’s already-high homicide rate has soared in the months since Gray died.

The mistrial brought an irresolute end to a case that has gripped this city, where many legal experts expected an acquittal, at least on the manslaughter charge, and officials have for weeks been preparing for more unrest. Wednesday, after three days of deliberation, the 12 members of the jury declared they could not reach a verdict on any of the four charges Porter faced. Instead, Wednesday evening, Baltimore was calm — albeit under a heavy presence of police officers, some in riot helmets — as residents, many disappointed by the lack of a verdict, absorbed the news. One of those arrested was Kwame Rose, 21, a prominent Baltimore activist whose full name is Darius Kwame Rosebaugh; the other was a 16-year-old boy whom officials did not identify. The case hinged on what prosecutors said Officer William Porter failed to do: They said Porter should have called an ambulance when Gray indicated he needed medical help, and should have buckled Gray’s seat belt.

Sabrina Tapp-Harper, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Sheriff’s Office, said the two were being booked Wednesday night on charges of failing to obey a lawful order and disorderly conduct, and for using a bullhorn outside the courthouse, which was considered a violation of laws regarding public peace. Erika Alston, a West Baltimore community leader who founded Kids Safe Zone after the April riots, said she felt there was reasonable doubt that Porter committed manslaughter, but “it’s early. Downtown, several dozen demonstrators converged against the backdrop of City Hall; they began to march in the street but were swiftly funneled to the sidewalk by police officers. “Mistrial?” said Tavon Haikns, 22. “Come on. It’s one of six.” Activist Duane “Shorty” Davis accused the prosecution of deliberately putting on a weak case to preserve its relationship with the police. “They’re not going to eat their own,” he said.

Shouting chants such as, “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray,” the group passed by the courthouse, down The Block on Baltimore Street and by police headquarters before returning to City Hall. Grey was arrested while fleeing from officers and died April 19, a week after his neck was broken inside a police van as a seven-block trip to the station turned into a 45-minute journey around West Baltimore.

Because they’re the police, and they’ve got a badge and a gun.” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, speaking at police headquarters, urged residents to peacefully accept the jury’s decision — even if it was unsatisfying. Paul Rucker of Highlandtown laid out a few dozen musical instrument cases on the lawn in front of City Hall, a symbolic statement about “lives cut short.” The instrument cases, with small American flags draped over them, resembled coffins.

The hung jury reflects a deep divide among Baltimore residents about the officer’s culpability and suggests that a fair trial in the city might not be possible, said Steve Levin, a city defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. The defence said Porter went beyond the call of duty when he moved Gray to a seated position at one point, and told the van driver and a supervisor that Gray had said “yes” when asked if he needed to go to a hospital.

The mistrial could complicate the other prosecutions; Officer Porter is considered a material witness in their case against the driver of the van, Officer Caesar R. Jurors first told the judge they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on Tuesday, nine hours into deliberations—but the judge instructed them to keep working. A big question now is whether the state will push back Officer Goodson’s trial, or decide to retry Officer Porter after the other five officers — or perhaps not retry him at all.

Judge Williams has barred prosecutors and defense lawyers from publicly discussing the case, and has summoned them to his chambers for a private conference on Thursday morning to set a new trial date. “There is no question now that the state can’t just proceed against Officer Goodson with Officer Porter unless they try Officer Porter first,” said David Jaros, an assistant professor of law at the University of Baltimore who has been following the case. Murphy said Wednesday that hung juries are “part of how the system works.” He says Gray’s family is not angry and that they want people to remain calm, understand what happened and keep their emotions in check.

Baltimore’s police commissioner says protesters have “a friend” in the department, but people who commit crimes and hurt people lose their right to call themselves demonstrators. Tessa Hill-Aston said in a statement that the case has highlighted the fact that prisoners who are placed in transport vans should have a seat belt on. Outside the courtroom after Wednesday’s decision, a local activist, Kwame Rose, used a megaphone to announce the decision, shouting, “They just declared a mistrial!” He quickly added, “Justice has not been served,” and “The system has failed us once again.” Mr. Rose was arrested minutes later, after officials ordered the crowd to disperse because it was “an unlawful assembly.” “This is a hung jury, it’s not an acquittal,” he said. “That’s important. Porter’s conviction stood near the courthouse, some holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter.” Police officers from other Maryland jurisdictions were standing by as backup, and at least three suburban school districts canceled field trips into Baltimore.

Gray had been faking his injuries, and that he had no idea his life was in danger until the van arrived at the Western District police station with Mr. Gray had died: “Freddie Gray and I, we weren’t friends, but we had a mutual respect.” The jury began its deliberations shortly after 2:30 p.m. on Monday, and on Tuesday announced it was deadlocked; Judge Williams then sent jurors back for more deliberations. In instructing them, he had said that a manslaughter conviction required them to conclude that Officer Porter showed a “reckless or wanton disregard for human life,” and that his actions were a “gross departure” from those of a reasonable officer — a standard that also applied to the assault charge.

In an impassioned closing argument to the jury on Monday, a prosecutor, Janice Bledsoe, contrasted Officer Porter’s testimony on the stand — in particular his assertion that he never heard Mr. Gray say he could not breathe — with a videotaped interview he gave to the Police Department’s internal affairs investigators. “How long does it take?” Ms.

Porter says Gray didn’t appear injured or in distress, and that it was the van driver’s responsibility to ensure prisoners were transported safely.

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