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#JusticeForFreddieGray: Judge Declares Mistrial in Trial of Officer William Porter, Police Crack Down on Protesters

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Baltimore Judge Barry G. Williams declared a mistrial in the manslaughter trial of Officer William Porter, the first police officer to stand trial in the death of Freddie Gray.

This came a day after the jury became deadlocked, and the judge had urged the jurors to return to deliberations to reach a verdict, which they could not.  The first of six officers to stand trial in Gray’s death in police custody, Porter, 25, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office.  He faced up to 25 years in prison.

These recent developments are a setback for Baltimore County State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby in her efforts to bring justice to Gray’s family for the acts of these police officers, whose charges include murder and are scheduled for trial in January.  In a statement, Mosby refused to comment, citing a gag order on discussing these cases, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The prosecution argued that Porter did not put on Gray’s seatbelt, a violation of department policy, and allegedly denied Gray medical care when it was clear he was injured.  As a result, Gray’s back was broken.  The defense argued that few officers follow the policy, as The Atlantic reported.  Further, it is unclear how Mosby will respond, and whether she will seek a retrial of the officer, given that we have no information regarding the breakdown of the jury deadlock, and how many jurors believed the officer was guilty or not guilty.  The legal standard is higher in a criminal trial such as this, as opposed to a civil trial, and it is also plausible that the prosecution over-charged Porter, as is common in cases involving defendants who are not police officers.

With the first Freddie Gray case ending in mistrial, a bad precedent is set for the remaining cases, some of which include more serious charges.  The prosecution is using Porter as a witness against the other officers on trial.  Further, this case outcome is significant because it may be regarded as a bellwether for the remaining trials in the death of Freddie Gray, as well as other cases of police violence throughout the nation.

As NPR reported, Gray family attorney Bill Murphy noted that 70 percent of retried cases following a hung jury end up in a conviction, with about 20 percent resulting in a not guilty verdict, and a very small number resulting in a second hung jury.  He noted that the mistrial “should not be viewed as an indication that it may be hard to reach a verdict. Murphy added that the verdict says nothing about whether a verdict can be reached for other officers, and the family, while disappointed, is not angry.

In a statement, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, “Twelve Baltimore residents listened to the evidence presented and were unable to render a unanimous decision. As a unified city, we must respect the outcome of the judicial process. In the coming days, 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 neighborhoods, and for the residents and businesses of our city. In the case of any disturbance in the city, we are prepared to respond. We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city.”

“More than 60,000 ColorOfChange members took action to thank State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby for her decision to actually charge these six officers,” wrote the Black online activist group ColorOfChange in an email message to its members. “Unless we speak up now, after today’s mistrial, there will be critiques about trial strategy and tons of pressure on Mosby from police unions to no longer pursue justice for Freddie’s death. Let’s keep the pressure on so that State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby knows she has our support in continuing to fight for justice for Freddie.”

The organization noted that indicting an officer is a “rare moment of public accountability,” and since protesters have taken to the streets, there has been an increase in charges against police.

“We call on state’s attorney Mosby to move quickly to retry Porter,” said Michaela Brown, communications coordinator of Baltimore Bloc, as reported by The Guardian.

“This is not over,” she added, in a statement issued jointly with the civil rights organization, Advancement Project. “Freddie Gray was treated as less than human and killed in police custody. Anything less than convicting Porter on all charges confirms that our criminal justice system does not value black lives. The system is structured to protect those with privileges from those who lack it. There is no doubt that a conviction should have happened. We will get another day in court.”

Immediately after the announcement, a crowd outside the courthouse chanted “all night all day we will fight for Freddie Gray.”  Not long after, officers arrested prominent Baltimore activist Kwame Rose, for using a bullhorn, as Think Progress reported. Police also reportedly harassed reporters who covered the protests, and arrested a minor named Melvin who participated in the demonstrations.

They just arrested @kwamerose FOR NOTHING. Just grabbed him. This is not a joke. #ThisIsWhyUprising #Baltimore pic.twitter.com/cnkMIMjzt9

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