Saturday 16 December 2017

Mistrial in Freddie Gray case in Baltimore

Officer William Porter arrives at court (AP)
Officer William Porter arrives at court (AP)

The first trial over the death of a black man from injuries he suffered while in the custody of Baltimore police has ended in a mistrial, with jurors saying they could not determine whether an officer was criminally responsible for Freddie Gray's death.

Officials appealed for calm in the aftermath of the mistrial, and small crowds of protesters demonstrated along streets lined with police officers.

William Porter's trial was the first test of the prosecutors' case against six officers in a city struggling to rein in violent crime. The case hinged not on what Mr Porter did, but what prosecutors said he did not do. He was accused of failing to get medical help for a critically wounded Mr Gray and was charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.

Mr Gray's injury in police custody sparked weeks of protests and fuelled the nation's scrutiny of how police treat black suspects.

The charges against Mr Porter carried maximum prison terms totalling 25 years. It was not immediately clear whether Mr Porter would be retried.

Wednesday was the third day of deliberations for the jury of seven women and five men. They deliberated for a total of about 15 hours. On Tuesday, they indicated they were deadlocked but Judge Barry Williams told them to keep working.

During deliberations on Wednesday, a handful of protesters gathered outside the courthouse, chanting "send those killer cops to jail".

Upon learning of the mistrial, about 30 people gathered and chanted "No justice, no peace!" and "Black Lives Matter." The demonstration spilled from the pavement and on to the street. Police officers lined the streets.

At least one activist was arrested in the immediate aftermath of the mistrial.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake repeated calls for Baltimore residents to respect the trial's outcome.

"If some choose to demonstrate peacefully to express their opinion, that is their constitutional right. I urge everyone to remember that collectively, our reaction needs to be one of respect for our neighbourhoods and for the residents and businesses of our city," she said in a statement.

A lawyer for Mr Gray's family, Billy Murphy, said he and Mr Gray's mother and stepfather would speak about the case on the courthouse steps. Mr Murphy won a multimillion-dollar settlement for Mr Gray's relatives before the trial began.

Mr Gray, who was arrested while fleeing from police, died on April 19, a week after his neck was broken while the seven-street trip turned into a 45-minute police van journey around west Baltimore. The post-mortem examination concluded that Mr Gray probably suffered the injury from being slammed against the compartment's metal wall during cornering or braking.

Mr Gray was black. Mr Porter is also black, as are two of the other five officers charged.

It was not clear how the mistrial would affect the state's cases against the other officers. Prosecutors had planned to use Mr Porter's evidence against two of his fellow officers.

Press Association

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