High stakes for Baltimore as Freddie Gray trials begin

30 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The future of the city is at stake’ as Baltimore readies for 1st Freddie Gray trial.

The first of six consecutive trials of officers accused in the killing of Freddie Gray is scheduled to begin this morning in Baltimore, a city that remains on edge seven months after protests and riots gripped it in the wake of the 25-year-old’s death in police custody. “Porter is going to be the key to everything,” says A.

Gray, 25, suffered a mysterious injury in the back of a police transport van and died April 19, inspiring thousands to take to the streets to protest what they believed was the mistreatment by police of another young black man. But, on Sunday, city Police Commissioner Kevin Davis asked his officers to break with tradition and gather on the same side of the field with members of a Penn North team before a police-community game designed to defuse tensions between the department and residents during a critical time. The trial will unfold against the backdrop of protests over police conduct in other cities, including Chicago and Minneapolis, where residents have been demonstrating against police shootings of black men. The legal proceedings are expected to last until at least mid-December and will provide fresh details about how Gray suffered a severe spinal injury while being transported in a police van.

It also could bring the first public account from one of the officers charged in the case, since Porter’s attorneys have said he will likely take the stand. The troubles forced an incumbent mayor in the throes of a re-election campaign to drop out of the race, and toppled the career of a reform-minded police chief who was unceremoniously fired. Gray was from Sandtown-Winchester, which was also represented by players in Sunday’s game. “We’re getting to know each other in a different way,” said Davis, appointed to lead the department in July after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired his predecessor, Anthony W. Former Baltimore Colts great Lenny Moore performed a ceremonial coin toss. “Whether the city is here in the stands right now doesn’t matter,” Davis told members of both teams in a huddle at midfield before the game. “The city is watching us. He is accused of checking on Gray during several stops the van made during its 45-minute trip from the Gilmor Homes in Sandtown-Winchester, where Gray was arrested, to the Western District station house, where officers found Gray unresponsive and he was taken to a hospital.

Williams of the Baltimore City Circuit Court, is African-American and has experience prosecuting police officers from his days as a lawyer with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Porter’s attorneys will also likely rebut the medical examiner’s report that classified Gray’s death as a homicide, saying coroners relied too much on information from prosecutors to reach their conclusions.

The trials, much like Gray’s death, are a microcosm of larger, systemic issues within the city, and the verdicts will have consequences on the city’s immediate future, as well as its healing. City officials, aware that protests are planned for Monday and throughout the trial, are preparing for the possibility of fresh unrest — especially if there is an acquittal.

When violent crime began surging in May, residents of predominantly poor black neighborhoods that bore the brunt of the bloodshed blasted the police for abandoning their posts— a side effect, some said, of the charges against the officers involved in Gray’s death. Scott, at 31 the youngest member of the City Council. “My message is to remain calm, let the law be the law and to help folks understand that when you’re dealing with trials and cases, you are dealing with the legal system. An independent review of the police response revealed “major shortcomings,” and painted a portrait of an overwhelmed and under prepared department that made tactical errors and endangered officers. Cases aren’t going to handle emotions or feelings and opinions.” “People are waiting for a guilty verdict in these charges,” said Sharon Black, an organizer with the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly who is helping to plan the demonstrations. “It may be an unpopular view with some, but nothing ever happened in Baltimore until the young people rebelled.” Legal experts said it was extremely difficult to win guilty verdicts in cases against police officers.

Hours before Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was fired in July, the police union issued its own scathing report, and its president called for Batts to “step up.” The U.S. And they caution that the Porter trial, which will revolve around narrow legal questions, will not yield the sweeping debate over police brutality that many black residents, who complain of decades of “police terror,” would like to see. “Freddie Gray’s death raised massive and critical social policy issues, issues about racial profiling, issues about abuse by police,” said David Jaros, an associate professor of law at the University of Baltimore. Prosecutors have not detailed exactly how Gray was injured or the events leading up to it, but medical examiners wrote in an autopsy report obtained by the Baltimore Sun that Gray may have climbed to his feet and then fallen as the van was making a turn, accelerating or decelerating. Department of Justice announced a patterns and practice probe into the department stemming from allegations that officers hassled people and used excessive force. But Jaros said issues such as “why Freddie Gray was initially stopped, why or whether police should be able to chase someone down just because they are in a high crime area and run from the police” might not surface.

He was charged with carrying an illegal switchblade, but a lawyer for his family, which eventually settled with the city for $6.4 million, said his only crime was “running while black.” He died in a hospital of a spinal cord injury a week later. Gray seemed healthy when he entered the van; when he arrived at Baltimore’s Western District police station 40 minutes later, after several stops, he was not breathing and was sent to the hospital. I know what’s important: that we have order in the city,” she told The Associated Press. “I’m prayerful that justice will prevail and the officers will be given a fair trial by a fair and impartial jury, and that the citizens of Baltimore and the police can respect the decision.” The absence of an incumbent in the mayoral race has created opportunities for others. Sheila Dixon, the city’s former mayor who was forced to resign after being convicted of embezzling about $500 in gift cards meant for poor children, announced her candidacy in July. But no reputations hinge on the trial’s outcome as much as state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby and her husband, Nick Mosby, a councilman for Baltimore’s west side who announced his mayoral candidacy shortly after Rawlings-Blake pulled out.

Jaros sees “a very challenging case” for the prosecution, which must prove that “a reasonable person would have known that Freddie Gray would essentially die if he didn’t receive medical attention.” Given the intense media scrutiny, Williams has imposed a strict gag order on the lawyers, barring them from discussing the case, and ruled that jurors’ identities will be shielded. Porter, who has been on the force since 2012, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. In October, a group of students staged an all-night sit-in at City Hall over a list of demands that included the firing of the city’s housing commissioner over a lawsuit that alleges handymen traded sex for repairs for poor, black women living in public housing. “If it doesn’t go over well, what will Christmas be like?

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