Officer’s Mistrial In Freddie Gray’s Death A Letdown For Both Sides

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

Demonstrators protested in the streets of Baltimore last night after a judge declared a mistrial in the case against an officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray, who died from a broken neck after being severely injured in the back of a police van. A group of about two dozen demonstrators carrying signs and chanting “Send those killer cops to jail,” “No justice, no peace!” and “Black lives matter” marched through traffic last night, hours after Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams announced a hung jury in the first effort to convict an officer arrested in connection with 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.

Homicides have soared and the pressure on city officials has been unrelenting since Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six officers in Gray’s death. 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 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. 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.

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. Both are charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey a law enforcement officer’s command, and disturbing the peace by using a bullhorn outside the courthouse while court was in session.

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. Prosecutors said Porter is partially to blame because he didn’t call an ambulance when Gray indicated he needed medical aid and didn’t buckle Gray into a seat belt, leaving him handcuffed and shackled but unrestrained in a metal compartment, unable to brace himself when the van turned a corner or braked. But jurors couldn’t decide whether Porter’s failures amounted to a crime — an outcome legal analysts say isn’t surprising given the difficulty of proving a case with no eyewitnesses or unequivocal evidence as to exactly how or when Gray was critically injured. 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.

Prosecutors will have a harder time calling Porter to testify because of his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, according to attorney Warren Alperstein. Options for the state could include granting Porter immunity in exchange for his testimony, trying to persuade the judge to postpone the other trials while retrying Porter or striking him from their witness list altogether. Prosecution of police officers is never easy, but when you look at some of the facts in this case, you’ve got to understand nothing here is a slam dunk,” Harris said. Gray’s stepfather said at a news conference Wednesday that the family isn’t upset by the mistrial, and looked forward to 12 fresh jurors being given a new chance to evaluate the case. “We are not at all upset with them and neither should the public be upset,” Richard Shipley said. “They did the best that they could. …

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