Protests held after Freddie Gray case ends in mistrial

Death of young man in police custody sparked Baltimore riots in April

Demonstrators march through downtown Baltimore after a judge announces a hung jury in police officer William Porter's manslaughter trial for the death of Freddie Gray. Video: Reuters


Authorities in Baltimore have appealed for calm after the first effort to convict an officer over the death of a man in a police van ended with a hung jury and a mistrial.

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.

William Porter’s mistrial is a setback for prosecutors trying to respond to a population frustrated by violent crime and allegations of police misconduct.

Murders have soared and the pressure on authorities has been unrelenting since Baltimore City State Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six police officers over the death of Freddie Gray (25).

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”. At least two activists were arrested.

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 critically-injured Mr Gray and was charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment, carrying maximum sentences totalling 25 years.

The judge will discuss a possible retrial with both sides in his chambers today.

Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the new police commissioner she installed after April’s riots warned people against more violence.

“We will not, we cannot, be defined by the unrest of the spring,” she said.

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 racially-diverse jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 16 hours over three days. They indicated they were deadlocked on Tuesday, but circuit Judge Barry Williams told them to press on, even as he denied their requests for help.

But yesterday he told them: “It is clear you will not come to a unanimous agreement on any of the four charges. You have clearly been diligent.”

Mr Porter left the courth after conferring with defence lawyer Joseph Murtha and was shielded from the media by deputies. Mr Murtha declined to comment.

Mr Gray was arrested while fleeing from officers and died on April 19, a week after his neck was broken inside a police van as a seven-street trip to the police station turned into a 45-minute journey around West Baltimore.

The young black man had been left handcuffed and shackled but without a seat belt in the metal compartment. The post-mortem examination concluded that he probably could not brace himself whenever the van turned a corner or braked suddenly.

Mr Porter is also black, as are two of the other five officers charged. Race was never mentioned during the trial.

It was not clear how the mistrial would affect the other officers. Prosecutors had planned to use Mr Porter’s evidence against two of them.

Prosecutors argued that Mr Porter, who was present at five of the van’s six stops, was criminally negligent for ignoring his department’s policy requiring officers to seat-belt prisoners and for not calling an ambulance even though Mr Gray repeatedly said he needed medical help.

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. The driver, officer Caesar Goodson, will be tried on January 6.