June 8, 2023
Across The Nation

Mistrial Declared in Trial of Officer William Porter in Death of Freddie Gray

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A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the case of Baltimore Police Officer William G. Porter after jurors said they had failed to reach an agreement on any of the charges against him in the death of Freddie Gray.

The decision, which came a day after jurors told Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams they were deadlocked, frustrated activists who had watched the first trial in Gray’s death closely. Outside the downtown courtroom, city officials and community leaders pleaded for calm, and authorities reported two arrests, but no violence or serious disruptions.

Porter, 26, the first of six police officers to be tried in Gray’s death, remains charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. Gray, 25, died in April after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in the back of a police van.

Jurors deliberated for three days before Williams declared the mistrial. The decision now throws the other trials into flux.

Prosecutors chose to try Porter first, planning to use him as a witness at the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson. Goodson, who is charged with second-degree murder, was slated for trial in the first week of January.

Mistrial declared in trial of Officer Porter in Freddie Gray case
After the mistrial, attorneys were to meet with Williams Thursday about scheduling a new trial for Porter.

Gray’s family said they were hopeful prosecutors would retry Porter. Gray’s stepfather, Richard Shipley, said jurors “did the best that they could,” while Gray’s twin sister, Fredericka, joined protesters.

The Gray family’s attorney said, “This saga is not over.”

“This hung jury does not mean it’s the end of Officer Porter’s case,” attorney Billy Murphy said. “It’s just a bump on the road to justice. And you know the road to justice has a lot of bumps.”

Porter, reached by phone Wednesday evening, said, “It’s not over yet.” Then he politely ended the conversation.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked residents to respect the legal process and to keep protests peaceful.

“All of us, if we believe in justice, must have respect for the outcome of the judicial process,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Twelve Baltimore City residents answered the solemn call to serve. They listened to the evidence presented and they rendered a decision.”

At Gilmor Homes, where Gray was arrested, Jazmin Hollaway, 20, sat crossed-legged on the ground in front of a mural of Gray.

“I’m stunned. I’m speechless,” she said. “When are we going to get justice?”

As night fell over the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues — the center of the riots that shook the city in April — a line of people a block long linked arms to urge against a repeat.

“One city! One purpose!” they chanted, and “Whose city? Our city!”

Gray’s death in police custody was the latest in a series to draw national attention and protests against police brutality. Cellphone video showed Gray wailing, and his legs dragging, as he was loaded into the van.

At trial, prosecutors accused Porter not of brutality but indifference, saying he “callously” failed to take simple steps required by Police Department rules — securing Gray with a seat belt and getting him medical attention when he asked — that could have saved his life.

During closing arguments, Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe held up a seat belt and clicked it for jurors.

“That’s all it would have taken,” she said.

Porter’s attorneys said the West Baltimore native was a good cop who tried to help Gray but didn’t realize the extent of his injuries. They said prosecutors and the state medical examiner who performed Gray’s autopsy could only theorize how and when Gray’s injuries occurred.

“The state is asking you to make a judgment based on speculation and conjecture,” defense attorney Joseph Murtha told jurors in his closing argument.

Porter took the stand to defend himself. He said he knew Gray, and the two had a “mutual respect.”

It was Porter who found Gray unresponsive in the back of the van.

“It was a very traumatic thing for me also,” Porter testified. “Just seeing him in the neighborhood every day, and calling his name and not getting a response.”

Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow was incredulous at Porter’s explanations for not doing more. He told the jury said Porter had “lied” to them about his account and suggested there had been a “coverup.”

Porter was not one of the officers who arrested Gray or who loaded him into the van on his belly with his hands and feet shackled. But prosecutors said he was called to check on Gray, and should have put him into a seat belt, and when Gray said he needed to go to the hospital, should have called for a medic.

Porter’s attorneys countered that he notified Goodson, who was driving the van, and a supervisor that Gray needed a medic. They called police training experts to testify that he had done what was required of him.

Defense attorneys for all of the officers charged in the case lobbied aggressively in pretrial hearings to have the trials moved to another jurisdiction. They argued that potential jurors in Baltimore had been saturated with news coverage of Gray’s death, the protests and the officers, and would be unable to render an unbiased verdict.

Williams, a former city prosecutor who also once handled police misconduct cases for the Justice Department, said Baltimoreans deserved the chance to hear the cases. The sides chose a jury of 12 with four alternates in little more than two days.

The jury included five black women, three black men, three white women, and one white man. One of the black female jurors became ill during the trial, and was replaced by a white male alternate.

Jurors began deliberating Monday afternoon. They asked several questions and requested transcripts.

It is rare to file criminal charges against officers for failing to act, legal analysts have said. In order to find Porter guilty of manslaughter, Williams told jurors, they would have to find Porter acted in a “grossly negligent manner” and that his conduct was a “gross departure” from what a “reasonable police officer” in a similar situation would do.

The charge of misconduct in office would have required a finding that Porter had “corruptly failed to do an act required by his duties” and that it was “not a mere error in judgment” but involved an “evil motive and bad faith.”

On Tuesday afternoon, after about nine hours of deliberations, the jurors emerged from a private room to say they were deadlocked. Williams sent them back to continue try to reach an agreement.

About 2:40 p.m. Wednesday, the jurors hit a buzzer. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and attorneys for the police union entered the courtroom. More than 20 minutes passed before Williams called the attorneys and Porter to the bench.

The court turned on a white noise machine so Williams could talk with the attorneys without being overheard.

At one point, Bledsoe spun around and looked toward the back of the courtroom with a pained smile on her face. Porter, resting his chin on his hand and later leaning over the judge’s desk, looked dejected.

Williams told the courtroom that jurors were deadlocked. Instead of ordering the jury to continue, he ordered a mistrial.

“You have taken your time” and have “clearly been diligent,” Williams said.

He had ordered that the jurors would remain anonymous, and they were whisked from the courthouse amid swelling protests and could not be reached for comment.

Williams did not indicate whether the was leaning one way or the other when they abandoned deliberations.

A gag order imposed by Williams remains in place, and the state’s attorney’s office and Porter’s attorneys were unable to comment.

The police union, which denounced the charges in May as a rush to judgment, said the hung jury was “frustrating to everyone involved.”

“Officer Porter and his attorneys will continue, with the full support of the Fraternal Order of Police, to press for his acquittal,” President Gene Ryan said in the statement.

Porter is on unpaid leave from the Police Department pending the outcome of the case.

Political leaders and neighborhood organizations called for calm in the leadup to the verdict. Police assembled in Druid Hill Park and schools CEO Gregory Thornton sent home letters to parents warning against student disruptions.

The Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple in Northwest Baltimore, said a mistrial “should not be confused with not guilty.” He asked people to remain calm, so there is no pressure to relocate the trial.

“The only thing that gives me a glimmer of hope is knowing that he can be retried,” Bryant said. “I knew this was going to be a difficult case. I think this is an indication of the other five. … It’s not going to be a lay-up.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Yvonne Wenger, Andrea McDaniels, Alison Knezevich, Natalie Sherman and Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

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