High Stakes For Baltimore As Freddie Gray Trials Begin

30 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

First trial in death of Freddie Gray begins in a city that is still on edge.

The first of six consecutive trials of officers accused in the killing of Freddie Gray began 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.“I still hear the young man crying, screaming at certain points,” said Perry, standing on his porch in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore, across the street from the court in Gilmor Homes where Freddie Gray was arrested. Perry, who was wearing dark glasses and holding a cane in one hand as he smoked a cigarette in the sun while a group of young men stood on the corner joking, remembered that morning all too well.

He was still asleep when the cries of the 25-year-old Gray awoke him. “I heard him screaming: ‘Get off my back, you’re hurting my neck, you’re hurting my neck. Porter, 26, will be closely watched locally and across the country and comes amid renewed concerns about police use of force against minorities and after recent protests over shootings in Chicago and Minneapolis. 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. I guess they handcuffed him and they brought him up to that point over there where the mural is and threw him down on the ground and two police cars pulled up right here in front of my house.” Perry is blind and couldn’t see what was happening to Gray, but he woke his wife to tell her that the police were beating someone outside. The trial 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.

Porter’s lawyers have repeatedly asked to have the trial moved out of the city, most recently at a final round of motion hearings last week based on a new study showing that residents of Baltimore who make up the jury pool have more negative views of police than those in the surrounding counties. “Because there’s a study, I should just tell the people of Baltimore they can’t be on a jury?” asked judge Barry Williams. “Denied,” he added as he walked away from the bench. Though a majority of Baltimore’s police officers don’t live in the city, Porter, who will be tried first for manslaughter and other charges, grew up near Gray in West Baltimore. According to official statements provided to the Baltimore Sun, Porter told investigators that Gray asked him for help that morning. “Help me, help me up,” Gray said. 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.

At this point, according to Porter’s statements, he told Cesare Goodson, the van’s driver, that central booking would not take Gray because he was injured. The uprising that began after video of Gray’s altercation with police was released made the Sandtown neighborhood the center of the world’s attention. Within a few days, Gray’s name had become a hashtag and the 25-year-old had become a symbol and a part of the nation’s larger discussion of police brutality against unarmed black men. On Saturday 25 April, a massive march from the Sandtown-Winchester area to city hall ended in a tense standoff between police, now wearing riot gear, and protesters. That morning, Baltimore police issued a statement about a “credible threat” that gangs were coming together to “take out” police and warned of rumors of an anarchic “purge” of high school students.

Then someone decided – neither the Fraternal Order of Police nor independent reports have been able to identify who – that schools should be released early and all public transportation shut down at Mondawmin Mall, a local transportation hub. Within the next couple of hours, the chaos moved down to the corners of Pennsylvania and North Avenues, where police cars and the CVS drugstore, which was first looted, were set on fire. Several blocks later, Goodson called dispatch for help in checking on Gray, which is when Porter arrived on the scene, according to charging documents. Porter and Goodson went to the back of the van to check on Gray, who requested help, saying he could not breathe and twice asking for a medic, prosecutors say. The governor called a state of emergency, the mayor announced curfews, and as the sun came up the next morning, transport vehicles carrying hundreds of national guardsmen rolled up Interstate 83 into the city.

In many ways, Baltimore police and protesters had been prepared for this uprising by the massive protests that shut down the city last November after a Missouri prosecutor decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown. The homicide rate has reached a record high – with more than 300 murders by the end of November, and near-record-low clearance rates, in the mid-30% range.

After an exceptionally violent May, in which there were rumors of a police slowdown and vocal criticism from the police union, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired police commissioner Anthony Batts and replaced him with Kevin Davis, who has taken a harder line with protesters, 16 of whom were arrested after taking over city hall at his confirmation. She is not.” Many in the legal community also question Mosby’s methods, if not her motives. “From a lawyer’s standpoint, I want to know if the state’s attorney’s office did an independent investigation,” said Jeremy Eldridge, a local defense attorney and former prosecutor. Porter, who has been on the force since 2012, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.

At the beginning of Porter’s trial, Oppenheim will be paying particularly close attention to jury selection on a case that has been so widely covered. “The ultimate question is: ‘Does their knowledge present a bias?’ I think there’s plenty of people who know what happened and still can make an informed decision on whether the officers are guilty or not guilty based on the evidence presented at trial. Hopefully judge Williams will be able to to sift through that and determine whether someone’s past experiences really present a bias.” “I want to see some of them charged the way we are charged,” he said. “They out here walking free and if you’re charged with murder, you don’t get a bond. That’s ridiculous.” But whatever happens in these individual cases, Perry recognizes the limits of long-term change, so long as conditions remain the same in his community. “There’s no relief in sight. Eventually, everybody in Baltimore city will have a criminal record because they can’t find a job, and if they’re on this corner, sooner or later they’re going to get picked up and accused of something that they may not even have been anywhere near.”

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