Mistrial declared in first Freddie Gray case as jurors deadlock on all counts

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A hung jury in Baltimore doesn’t equal a failure of justice.

A scattering of protests erupted here Wednesday after jurors failed to reach a verdict in the trial of Officer William Porter, the first of six defendants in the Freddie Gray case. It was an unexpected twist that raised complex questions about the legal path forward for five other officers facing charges in a fatal police encounter that prompted a burst of violent unrest here last spring. The reaction began unfolding almost immediately after the judge declared a mistrial, describing the jury as hopelessly deadlocked after more than 16 hours of deliberation.

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. Whatever their frustrations, it would be baseless and wrong to suppose the jury, or the prosecutors, or the judge who tried the case, was cavalier in the pursuit of justice. At one point, some protesters rushed a building as deputies shouted, “Don’t break the line.” Gray’s twin sister, Fredericka, joined the group as it marched toward the Inner Harbor.

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 to link arms and pray 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. She and her friends held signs saying “It stops with cops – good cops don’t let bad cops kill citizens.” Porter, who will be retried on involuntary-manslaughter and other charges, was not exonerated. The mistrial brought an irresolute end to proceedings that have gripped this city, where many legal experts expected an acquittal, at least on the manslaughter charge. Moments later, a sheriff’s deputy read a statement that they were free to protest but could not use bullhorns or assemble in front of the courthouse.

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. Instead, on Wednesday night, Baltimore was calm — though its downtown was heavily guarded by police officers, some in riot helmets — as residents, many disappointed by the lack of a verdict, absorbed the news. 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 — and they did.

Melvin Townes, 16, who lives in West Baltimore and knew Freddie Gray a little, was also arrested. “We are worthless in this city,” said Lee Patterson, 60, a protester who has been outside the courthouse every day. “They don’t care about black lives.” Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore City NAACP, echoed his frustration. “We know this much: His neck was broken,” she said. “We know Freddie is dead. Protests were limited and scattered; people hugged during a “prayer line” at North and Pennsylvania Avenues, the center of the spring riots, while several dozen demonstrators converged downtown near City Hall. Video of the juvenile’s arrest showed him standing next to a protester with a bullhorn when a sheriff’s deputy grabbed him by the throat and pushed him backward toward a building. Porter, was to be the opening to — and a critical building block for — a six-part legal proceeding on the fatal encounter between the police and Mr. Tapp-Harper declined to comment on the video but said the teen had used the bullhorn. “Just because it wasn’t captured on video does not mean he wasn’t using it,” she said.

What happened next was in stark contrast to what occurred at this intersection in West Baltimore’s Penn-North neighborhood eight months ago, when a CVS pharmacy was looted and burned. 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. 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. Genard Barr, 40, a “peer advocate” at the nearby Penn-North Recovery Center, stood on the stoop of a beauty supply store on the corner and, with a small bullhorn, led the gathering in a recitation of the Serenity Prayer. 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.

People stood with arms linked as Barr walked with his bullhorn. “We are here to show the world how we actually behave in Penn-North,” Barr declared through the bullhorn. “To show how much we actually care, how much we can actually change, without outside influence. …Is everybody here Penn-North strong?” Of a new trial, he said, “It’s a do-over — with a preview of the evidence.” Officer Porter, 26, who testified in his own defense, was charged with manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. In the view of many, a death that was preventable was, on its own, proof of criminal neglect and manslaughter It is also true, however, that prosecuting police officers is rarely simple.

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. 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. 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.

Some legal experts attributed the outcome to the starkly different closing arguments delivered by the prosecutor Janice Bledsoe and the defense lawyer Joseph Murtha. Bledsoe delivered an impassioned appeal, dangling a blood-stained seatbelt from the van before jurors, and calling the wagon “a casket on wheels.” Mr. Mosby — who has become a divisive figure here, especially among defenders of the police, who view her as an overzealous prosecutor — saw the mistrial as a big loss for her.

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