King: Someone must take responsibility for Freddie Gray’s fatal police custody …

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Baltimore on edge after hung jury declared in policeman’s trial.

BALTIMORE (Reuters) – Baltimore will be awaiting a fresh court date on Thursday after a judge declared a mistrial in the case of a police officer charged in the death of black detainee Freddie Gray, which sparked riots in April.

BALTIMORE — The first effort to convict an officer in Freddie Gray’s death from a broken neck in a Baltimore Police van ended Wednesday with a hung jury and a mistrial. A judge dismissed the jury on Wednesday in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Officer William Porter, the first of six officers to be tried in Gray’s death. 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. William Porter’s mistrial is a setback for prosecutors trying to respond to a citizenry frustrated by violent crime and allegations of police misconduct.

On Wednesday, scores of protesters marched through downtown Baltimore following the ruling, chanting “we have nothing to lose but our chains” and “the whole damn system is guilty as Hell.” Uniformed police officers took up positions throughout the city, including by the courthouse and police headquarters, and at least two demonstrators were arrested. Another group of protesters gathered in Gray’s neighbourhood, near where a drug store was burnt during the rioting, where they expressed disappointment at the outcome. Gray’s death triggered protests and rioting in the mainly black city of 620,000 people, and intensified a U.S. debate on police treatment of minorities. About 30 protesters chanting “send those killer cops to jail” outside the courthouse switched gears after the mistrial was announced, chanting “No justice, no peace!” and “Black Lives Matter.” The case hinged not on what Porter did, but what prosecutors said he didn’t do.

Gray’s family and officials, including Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, called for calm, eager to avoid a replay of the unrest that followed Gray’s death. Legal experts have said the outcome of the Baltimore trials could influence U.S. prosecutors in bringing similar charges in cases of alleged police brutality. He was accused of failing to get medical help for a critically wounded Gray and was charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment, carrying maximum sentences totaling 25 years.

Mr Porter was charged for having put Gray in the back of the van without seat-belting him and with being too slow to pass on his request for medical assistance. Williams’ ruling prompted protests, with scores of demonstrators marching in downtown Baltimore and gathering in Gray’s West Baltimore neighbourhood. The officer’s attorneys had argued that Mr Porter may have been unaware of department policy mandating that detainees be seat-belted, which was put into place shortly before Gray’s arrest. But later, the court sent out a note saying the meeting would be in the judge’s chambers. “Protesters who are lawfully assembled have a friend in the Baltimore Police Department,” Commissioner Kevin Davis said. “Folks who choose to commit crimes and break things and hurt people are no longer protesters.” Attorney Billy Murphy, who obtained a $6.4 million settlement for Gray’s family from the city before Porter’s trial, called the mistrial “a temporary bump on the road to justice.” The racially diverse jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 16 hours over three days. Baltimore officials had come under heavy criticism for a restrained initial response to the rioting, which some observers contended allowed arson and looting to spiral out of control.

Although they indicated they were deadlocked on Tuesday, Williams told them to keep at it. “It is clear you will not come to a unanimous agreement on any of the four charges,” Williams told jurors yesterday. “You have clearly been diligent.” “We are going to fight for justice until it becomes a reality in our lives,” Rose said. “A mistrial means that the prosecution did not do their jobs good enough.” The death and its aftermath followed the police killings of black men in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, which also sparked protests, helping to spark the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. 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. 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.

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. Prosecutors argued that Porter, who was present at five of the van’s six stops, was criminally negligent for ignoring his department’s policy requiring officers to seatbelt prisoners, and for not calling an ambulance even though Gray repeatedly said he needed medical help. The defense 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.

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