What to Expect as 1st Cop in Freddie Gray Case Goes to Trial

30 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

First of Six Trials in Freddie Gray Death Begins in Baltimore.

The latest on the trial of a police officer accused in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a spinal injury in the back of a transport van (all times local): Gov. The Republican governor said Monday that a security team in his administration has been working with the city’s police commissioner and the state police superintendent.

The verdict could have immediate consequences for Baltimore: An acquittal could mean protests and potentially more unrest, while a conviction could shake the city’s already distressed police department. Porter’s trial will be closely watched as a sign of the strength of the state’s evidence in a case that sparked rioting and fueled a national debate about race and policing. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams has begun questioning prospective jurors who spoke up during the first round of questioning in the jury selection process for Officer William Porter.

Williams first asked the group of more than 70 whether they had heard about the Freddie Gray case, the curfew related to the unrest that followed and the $6.4 million civil settlement Baltimore reached with Gray’s family. Officer Porter – who faces charges of second-degree assault, misconduct in office, manslaughter, and reckless endangerment – is accused of ignoring Gray’s requests for medical aid and failing to put a seatbelt on him, despite Gray being shackled and handcuffed. The judge then turned his attention to more nuanced matters, such as whether the prospective jurors knew witnesses in the case, or whether their personal views and experiences might preclude them from serving.

In the wake of the violence, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake faced criticism and has since dropped her bid for re-election, while then-Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was fired. 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.

The trials, like Gray’s death, are expected to serve as a microcosm for deeper, more systemic issues the city and the nation face, and throw into sharp relief Baltimore’s social and political troubles. For one, the lack of an incumbent in the mayoral race has opened the door for others to step in – including former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who was forced to resign after being accused of embezzlement; and Nick Mosby, a city councilman and husband to state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby, who is leading the charge against the six officers. “If it doesn’t go over well, what will Christmas be like? Twelve jurors said they had family members who are in law enforcement, while 37 said they had been a victim or a suspect in a crime, had been to jail or had charges pending against them. I know what’s important: that we have order in the city,” she said. “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.”

A small group of protesters gathered outside the courtroom just before 9 a.m., and their chants of “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray,” could be heard throughout the morning’s proceedings. Later during his van ride, his legs were shackled and he was placed back in the van without a seatbelt, a violation of department policy, prosecutors have said. 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. 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. Department of Justice announced a patterns and practice probe into the department stemming from allegations that officers hassled people and used excessive force.

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 van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, faces the most serious charge of second-degree depraved-heart murder, meaning reckless disregard for another person’s life. 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. Several blocks later, Goodson called dispatch for help in checking on Gray, which is when Porter arrived on the scene, according to charging documents.

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