Freddie Gray case: Hung jury in trial of Baltimore Officer William Porter

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Judge Declares Mistrial of Officer in Freddie Gray Case.

BALTIMORE (AP) — 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). Billy Murphy, who represents Gray’s mother and stepfather, says he has every confidence Officer William Porter will be convicted if he is tried a second time. According to The Sun, the jury had deliberated for three days, visiting the judge numerous times for instruction before declaring that they were unable to agree on any of the four charges (involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office).

Perhaps no outcome could have better represented the mood here, where residents are deeply divided about what led to and who should be held responsible for Gray’s fatal injury while in police custody. 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.

On the day of his funeral in April, violent riots exploded in West Baltimore as the incident became a defining moment in the national movement protesting law enforcement’s treatment of African-Americans. “They just declared a mistrial. 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. That means justice has not been found,” Kwame Rose shouted into a bullhorn, adding soon after: “Do not tell us to protest in peace.” Moments later, a sheriff’s deputy read a statement that people are free to protest but are not permitted to use bullhorns or assemble in front of the courthouse. 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. All six of the officers involved in his fatal arrest have been indicted, but Porter, who prosecutors say failed to secure Gray with a seat belt despite his being shackled at his hands and feet, was the first officer to go to trial.

Homicides soared after Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six officers in Gray’s death, and the pressure city officials has been unrelenting since then. The jury – made up of what appears to be seven black and five white members – failed to reach unanimity after hearing two weeks of passionate legal arguments and contradictory witness testimony, leaving prosecutors to decide whether to try Officer William G.

Gray’s death came shortly after the high-profile deaths of several young black men at the hands of police officers, including Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner, sparking mass protests throughout the nation and fostering the Black Lives Matter movement. The Sun reports that police had prepared for a surge of unrest and riots in the event of a not-guilty verdict, but it’s unclear what will happen following the announcement of the mistrial. The mayor and police commissioner were to speak a news conference Wednesday evening, but Mosby wouldn’t comment. “Gag order,” Mosby said, smiling and shaking her head inside the courthouse.

Many in Gray’s West Baltimore neighborhood – known for its poverty, violence and steadfast distrust of police – feared that if several or even just one of the six officers being tried were acquitted, more upheaval would inevitably follow. The police department has banned officers from taking leave as area schools canceled field trips, warned students not to participate in civil unrest and told parents in a letter that kids who participate in “any form of violence” would be punished. The president of the Baltimore NAACP says despite a mistrial in the case against an officer charged in Freddie Gray’s death, there has been change in the city. Jurors sent notes asking for an explanation of terms including “evil motive” and “bad faith,” the standards by which they were told to weigh the misconduct charge.

Kwame Rose, who was marched by sheriff’s deputies into the courthouse, had called the mistrial an “injustice.” “We are going to fight for justice until it becomes a reality in our lives. A mistrial means that the prosecution did not do their jobs good enough,” he said. “If some choose to demonstrate peacefully to express their opinion, that is their constitutional right. It remains unclear precisely how Gray was injured, but medical experts on both sides of the case compared his injury to those sustained when someone dives headfirst into too-shallow water. I urge everyone to remember that collectively, our reaction needs to be one of respect for our neighborhoods, and for the residents and businesses of our city,” she said in a statement. Attorneys called more than 20 witnesses, presented about 100 pieces of evidence and made hours of impassioned arguments in their competing efforts to explain Porter’s actions that day.

Erika Alston, a West Baltimore community leader who founded Kids Safe Zone after the April riots, said the mistrial leaves her “kind of numb,” even though she followed the trial and walked away feeling there was reasonable doubt that Porter committed manslaughter. “It’s early. Prosecutors alleged that Porter, 26, disregarded his duty by not strapping Gray into the van while also failing to get him medical help when he asked for it and, at one point, claimed he couldn’t breathe. Gray 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.

The young black man had been left handcuffed, shackled and face-down on the floor of the metal compartment, and the autopsy concluded that he probably couldn’t brace himself whenever the van turned a corner or braked suddenly. Several officers testified that arrestees were rarely, if ever, buckled into police vans. “You’re making a legal decision – not a moral, not a philosophical – a legal decision,” defense attorney Joseph Murtha had told jurors Monday. “You set aside the sympathies, you set aside the passions, you look at the cold, hard facts that aren’t there in this case.” The trial – which the defense repeatedly insisted should be relocated because of the immense publicity – was rife with dramatic episodes, beginning at jury selection when demonstrators’ chants filtered into the marbled courtroom: “We won’t stop until killer cops are in cell blocks.” Later, after prosecutors played shaky cell phone video of Gray’s arrest, his mother, Gloria Darden, began to sob, prompting Williams to pause the proceedings.

Porter described growing up in the same neighborhood as Gray, someone the officer said he had a “mutual respect” for but who he knew feigned injury to avoid arrest. Prosecutors argued that Porter was criminally negligent for ignoring his department’s policy requiring officers to seat belt prisoners, and for not calling an ambulance immediately after Gray indicated he needed medical help. His testimony intensified during cross examination when Prosecutor Michael Schatzow suggested he was involved in a cover-up driven by officers’ unwillingness to “snitch” on each other. Outside the courthouse Wednesday morning, the scene was quiet, as it had been a day earlier when camera crews were posted on every corner and just three protesters displayed signs.

One read: “Jail Killer Police.” Julie MacGregor, 58, held a Gray poster in one hand, and in the other, she gripped a stack of postcards that offered tips on how to handle encounters with the police. Johnson worried that if Porter and the other officers were acquitted “it will be 1968 all over again,” referring to the destructive riots that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. “I’m here for some justice,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to get justice, not the kind that should be gotten.

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