In what is a perceived legal blow for prosecutors, the jury was hung and the judge declared a mistrial in the trial of Baltimore police officer William Porter in the case of Freddie Gray’s death after sustaining injuries while in custody.
Porter was charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office in the April 19 death of Gray, who died a week after his neck was broken during a ride in the back of a police van. Gray’s death and the subsequent unrest in Baltimore brought to the fore long simmering tensions in Baltimore and across the nation over socioeconomic disparity and the relationship between law enforcement and the minority communities they serve.
Prosecutors considered Porter’s case as key to help strengthening the case against van driver Caesar Goodson, Jr. It was also seen as a signal of how the trials of the other five officers could go. The remaining trials are set for early next year.
It is unclear how the mistrial will affect the prosecution’s approach on the other trials, if at all.
Jurors began deliberating on Monday afternoon.
There will be an administrative hearing on Thursday to determine a new court date. The judge gave Porter the option to appear tomorrow, and Porter declined.
“You’ve been diligent,” Williams told the jury, “thank you for your diligence.” Williams dismissed the jury saying he will have more information for them in a bit.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby was in court for the announcement, but she, like all parties in the case, is still under a gag order. The gag order extends until all six officers’ trials are complete.
Porter, the defense, and the prosecution all looked tense when the judge spoke to them privately before making the announcement to the court. Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe could be seen shaking her head.
Over the past two days, the jury of four black women, three black men, three white women and two white men gave signals that they were locked in tense discussions. On Tuesday they told Judge Barry Williams that they were deadlocked and he sent them back to deliberate.
Earlier on Wednesday, the jurors asked for a transcript of witness testimony — a request the judge denied. Shortly after, jurors let the court know that they were hung.
Juror began deliberating on Monday afternoon. The judge had previously said he wanted to be done with the trial by Dec. 17th and told the jurors to take as long as they needed to reach a verdict.
The jurors weren’t sequestered and have been under order not to discuss the trial.
During trial arguments, prosecutors focused on what they said was Porter’s failure to take care of Gray while he was in custody by not getting him medical care or buckling his seatbelt.
Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said Porter, 26, “criminally neglected his duty to keep Mr. Gray safe,” during arguments early in the trial.
The prosecution painted Porter, who grew up in the same neighborhood, as a young man who made good on his life and had an affable demeanor.
Porter, who took the stand in his defense, said Gray was “unable to give me a reason for a medical emergency” and that it was not his duty to seatbelt people who have been arrested in the van.
Porter faces a maximum penalty of about 25 years.
Officials in the city of Baltimore had been calling for peace as the city awaited a verdict.
Hours before the jury began its deliberations Monday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for people to respect the jury’s decision.
“In the coming days, if some choose to demonstrate peacefully to express their opinion, that is their constitutional right,” the mayor said. “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.”
Rawlings-Blake also announced the opening of an emergency operations center so authorities can coordinate any necessary response.
— Mayor Rawlings-Blake (@MayorSRB) December 16, 2015
The city’s preparedness is in response to unrest that followed Gray’s funeral in April.
Activist groups had taken out permits ahead of time for possible protests, and crowds began gathering near the courthouse and the scene of Gray’s arrest.
Tessa Hill-Acton, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, also called for protests to remain peaceful.
“People want a conviction. They want someone to pay for Freddie’s death,” Hill-Acton said. “Show your anger, protest in the good way — but don’t do anything in anger.”