Why no one should be truly shocked by the mistrial in the Freddie Gray case
Baltimore on edge after hung jury declared in policeman’s trial.
BALTIMORE (AP) — As jurors deliberated the fate of one of six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore braced for a possible repeat of the protests, destruction and dismay that engulfed the city in April, when Gray died of a broken neck in the back of a police van. The judge dismissed the jury in the involuntary manslaughter trial of officer William Porter — the first of six officers to be tried in Gray’s death — after 16 hours of deliberations during which the jurors were unable to reach a verdict on any of the charges against the policeman. Crowds protested along streets in the Maryland city lined with police but the situation was quiet at the junction where the worst rioting happened in April as parts of West Baltimore were set on fire. Officer Porter was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment in associated with the 25-year-old Gray’s death.
Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams said an administrative judge would schedule a new trial, but said there would be no court proceedings in the case on Thursday. William Porter’s mistrial is a setback for prosecutors trying to respond to a population frustrated by violent crime and allegations of police misconduct. Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow argued that Officer Porter, 26, had “criminally neglected his duty to keep Mr Gray safe,” according to NBC News.
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. About 30 protesters chanting “send those killer cops to jail” outside the court changed gear after the mistrial was announced, chanting “No justice, no peace!” and “Black lives matter”.
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. It is now up to State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to determine whether to further pursue criminal charges,” she said in a statement on Wednesday. “This is our American system of justice.
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. In the coming days, if some choose to demonstrate peacefully to express their opinion, that is their constitutional right,” she said. “I urge everyone to remember that collectively, our reaction needs to be one of respect for our neighborhoods, and for the residents and businesses of our city. 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.
Lawyer Billy Murphy, who obtained a $6.4 million-dollar settlement for Mr Gray’s family from the city before Mr Porter’s trial, called the mistrial “a temporary bump on the road to justice”. 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. 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.
The defence said Mr Porter went beyond the call of duty when he moved Mr Gray to a seated position at one point, and told the van driver and a supervisor that Mr Gray had said “yes” when asked if he needed to go to a hospital. 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. Prosecutors did not present strong evidence on the more serious charges against Porter, but the hung jury suggests that at least one juror wanted to convict him on those counts, Levin said. “The state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Freddie Gray died. 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. … I think the state’s attorney went in there with the intention of losing,” Davis said. “The prosecution had no intention of winning the case because of their relationship with the police department.
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