- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A judge declared a hung jury Wednesday in the manslaughter trial of one of six Baltimore police officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, prompting extra police to patrol city streets and elected leaders to plead for calm, as all hoped to avoid a repeat of the violence that marred the city in April after the young man’s funeral.

The jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision in the trial of Officer William Porter, dealing a potential blow to prosecutors in the remaining cases in which Officer Porter was expected to serve as a witness. The death of Gray, 25, who sustained mortal injuries while handcuffed in the back of a police van, touched off widespread protests and rioting in Baltimore and helped fuel the national Black Lives Matter movement.

It was unclear whether prosecutors would seek to retry Officer Porter. A spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby declined to comment on the case, citing a gag order, but attorneys were scheduled to meet with a judge Thursday to discuss a possible retrial date. Five other officers are scheduled to go on trial beginning in January.

“This is our American system of justice. Twelve Baltimore residents listened to the evidence presented and were unable to render a unanimous decision,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, noting that it remains up to Ms. Mosby to decide whether to pursue the case further. “As a unified city, we must respect the outcome of the judicial process.”

The racially diverse jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 16 hours over three days. They indicated that they were deadlocked Tuesday, but Circuit Judge Barry Williams told them to continue deliberating and denied their requests for help.

“It is clear you will not come to a unanimous agreement on any of the four charges,” Judge Williams said Wednesday. “You have clearly been diligent.”

Police braced for protests in response to the mistrial. Baltimore sheriff’s deputies surrounding the city courthouse Wednesday afternoon to keep a small number of demonstrators at a distance.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Wednesday that his department would respect the rights of protesters to gather and demonstrate but reiterated that police would not tolerate violence or destruction of property.

“You lose your ability to call yourself a protester when you choose to harm people and damage property,” Commissioner Davis said.

A small number of protesters gathered near Baltimore City Hall after the verdict, but all appeared peaceful as of late afternoon. As the evening wore on, police confronted a group of protesters who were walking in the street and told them to return to the sidewalk, but there did not appear to be any clashes.

Commissioner Davis, who assumed command of the department after the April riots, which caused significant damage to property, suspended officers’ leave ahead of the jury deliberations this week.

All sworn personnel in the city department were assigned to 12-hour shifts through this week, and the commissioner said police would be monitoring social media for any signs of unruly protesters. Law enforcement officers from other Maryland departments also were on call in case protests grew out of control, said Vince Canales, president of the Maryland police union.

“No one wanted to be caught flat-footed should anything occur,” Mr. Canales said.

Baltimore’s police department is one of several law enforcement agencies across the country under federal investigation in the wake of highly publicized incidents involving police use of force in confrontations with black men — the keystone of the Black Lives Matter movement. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is scheduled to meet Thursday with Justice Department investigators looking into the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a police officer last year.

In addition, the Justice Department is close to an agreement with the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, to bring sweeping changes to the agency, a person familiar with the matter said Wednesday. Ferguson was the site of another fatal shooting of a black teen by a white police officer in August 2014.

‘Pressure to retry him’

Baltimore NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston was among those disappointed with the hung jury in the trial of Officer Porter, but she said she hopes city prosecutors will be able to secure a conviction in one of the other five cases.

“People are on edge because they want a conviction and they want someone to pay for Freddie’s death,” Ms. Hill-Aston told WBAL-TV. “The main thing is people can show their emotions by protesting but not to do anything to destroy their neighborhood. Show your anger, protest and demand justice — that’s the good thing, but don’t do anything to get yourself locked up.”

Billy Murphy, a lawyer who obtained a $6.4 million settlement for Gray’s family from the city before Officer Porter’s trial, called the mistrial “a temporary bump on the road to justice.”

Officer Porter, who is black, was charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. If convicted, he faced a maximum prison sentence of 25 years.

The case against him hinged not on what he did, but on what prosecutors said he didn’t do during Gray’s 45-minute ride in the back of the police van. He was accused of ignoring his department’s policy requiring officers to buckle prisoners in seat belts and for not calling an ambulance after Gray repeatedly said he needed medical help.

Defense attorneys said Officer 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 said “yes” when asked whether he needed to go to a hospital.

Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the driver of the van, faces the most serious criminal charges, including second-degree murder. Other police department members — Lt. Brian Rice, Sgt. Alicia White, and Officers Edward Nero and Garrett Miller — face charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to misconduct in office and false imprisonment.

The mistrial may cause scheduling conflicts for the remainder of the cases, raising the question of whether prosecutors would consider dropping charges against Officer Porter to keep him as a witness in remaining cases, said former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey.

“There is going to be a lot of pressure to retry him,” Mr. Ivey said, noting that Ms. Mosby might take into consideration the split among the jurors before making a decision. “If it’s a close split, there is a good chance she is going to retry.”

Whatever the decision on a retrial, legal analyst Andrew D. Levy, a Baltimore trial lawyer, said the outcome in Officer Porter’s case is not necessarily a bad omen for prosecutors in the remainder of the cases.

“You do have to be cautious about projecting Officer Porter’s unique set of circumstances onto the other officers,” Mr. Levy said. “The case against Porter was problematic to begin with. While the evidence was sufficient as a legal matter, it was aggressive. Not all prosecutors would have made the same decision.”

Officer Porter, who testified in his own defense, also seemed to do well on the witness stand and did not give the impression of “an obvious villain,” Mr. Levy said.

With the path to a retrial unclear, city and police officials urged residents to stay patient and remain calm.

“While certainly nothing will return Freddie Gray to his family, we ask that the public continue to allow the judicial process to find its way to a final resolution,” said Fraternal Order of Police President Gene Ryan.

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. Jack Young asked that residents respect the jury’s decision.

“As Baltimore continues to heal from April’s unrest, I would ask that the citizens of Baltimore, and her guests, continue to engage in peaceful and constructive dialogue and actions that serve to improve our great city,” Mr. Young said.

As for the man at the center of the mistrial, Officer Porter reportedly had little to say when reached by phone by The Baltimore Sun.

“It’s not over yet,” he told The Sun before ending the conversation.

This article is based in part on wire services reports.

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