Mistrial In First Freddie Gray Case

The jury only deliberated for two days, but it remained deadlocked. The Sun:

A mistrial was declared Wednesday in the trial of Baltimore Police Officer William G. Porter, after jurors told a judge it could not reach a verdict on any of the four charges against him.

“I do declare a mistrial,” Judge Barry G. Williams announced in a downtown courtroom.

Porter, 26, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. He is the first of six city police officers to stand trial in the death of Freddie Gray.

Attorneys are expected to appear in court Thursday morning in front of an administrative judge to pick a retrial date. Porter is not scheduled to attend.

It’s unclear whether Porter’s retrial will affect the trial dates for the other five officers, who are scheduled to be tried separately and consecutively beginning Jan. 6.

Here’s what I want to know. What was the split of the jury? If it was hung 11-1 foot conviction, that’s one thing. But it’s totally different if it was 11-1 for acquittal. Hopefully we’ll find out soon. 

Freddie Gray Trials To Remain In Baltimore

In a major victory for the prosecution, the trials of the six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray will remain in Baltimore.

Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled Thursday morning that the trials of six police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray will stay in Baltimore, saying the defense had failed to prove that the officers cannot receive a fair trial in the city.

Judge Barry Williams said it would be wrong to assume the jury pool was already tainted, and that potential jurors should be first screened. His comments left open the possibility that the trial could still be moved at a later date.
“The citizens of Baltimore are not monolithic,” Williams said in his ruling. “They think for themselves.”

I’ve been pretty well right about the outcomes of the motions so far, but I have to admit that this one came as a bit of a surprise. The one thing that was problematic about a change in venue is the havoc it would have caused for another jurisdiction. Did that play into the decision? It’s impossible to know, but maybe. Also, it is very possible that this motion could be renewed at a later time, so it’s by no means the final word on the issue. But it’s still a win for the prosecution.

Baltimore FOP: Settlement “Obscene”

The bomb throwing President of the Baltimore City FOP, Gene Ryan, had his usual calm, deliberative response to the news of the City’s settlement with the family of Freddie Gray:

Ryan is banking on ignorance and bigotry in order to fan the flames of tension in the City in advance of the decision whether to keep the criminal cases in Baltimore or ship them elsewhere for trial. Criminal and civil cases are completely separate things - the standard of proof required is different in each case, for one major difference. And the City has interests that are not always in precise alignment with its police officers, no matter how much Ryan wishes it was so. The fact that no lawsuit has been filed is very common in cases like this - it is the desire to settle before all the allegations are made public that drives cities and states to settle these cases before suit is filed, not after. And the amount, while high, is only slightly more than what New York paid to the family of Eric Garner.

I have no doubt that Gene Ryan knows all of the above, and is doing what he’s doing in a deliberate effort to increase, not diminish, the tension in Baltimore. In one sense, it’s part of his job to look out for his officers. I get that. But the level of vitriol that he has spewed from the outset of this matter is more appropriate to a George Wallace or a Strom Thurmond or a small town southern sheriff in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s not appropriate to the circumstances of a city like Baltimore in 2015, it’s inflammatory and confrontational, and it’s repugnant.

BREAKING: Freddie Gray Settlement: $6.4 Million

The Washington Post reports within the past few minutes (beating the Sun to the story!) that the family of Freddie Gray has settled claims arising out of Gray’s death in the custody of Baltimore police for $6.4 million.

Baltimore officials have reached a $6.4 million wrongful death settlement with the family of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died in April from a neck injury he suffered in police custody, according to two people with knowledge of the agreement.

Baltimore officials could announce details of the proposed settlement as early as Tuesday. Such a deal however, would have to be approved by the city’s Board of Estimates, the governing body that oversees the city’s spending. That group, which includes Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), is expected to meet Wednesday.

The settlement also requires Baltimore to have its police officers begin wearing body cameras.

The Post also notes that the Gray settlement exceeds the $5.9 million agreed to by New York in the death of Eric Garner. 

Separate Trials For Freddie Gray Defendants

In a ruling that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been reading this erudite and learned blog, Judge Barry Williams this afternoon granted a defense request that the six defendants be tried separately.

A judge on Wednesday ordered that six Baltimore Police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray be tried separately.

The ruling was one of three that Judge Barry Williams handed down during the first pre-trial motions hearing in the case. Williams earlier denied defense motions to dismiss charges against the officers and to recuse State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s office from the case.

Prosecutors sought to have the sixA judge on Wednesday ordered that six Baltimore Police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray be tried separately.

The ruling was one of three that Judge Barry Williams handed down during the first pre-trial motions hearing in the case. Williams earlier denied defense motions to dismiss charges against the officers and to recuse State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s office from the case.

Prosecutors sought to have the six officers tried in groups, while defense attorneys had argued their clients should be tried separately.

Williams said trying the officers together would not be “in the interest of justice.”

This was the right decision. It’s a huge pain in the ass for the prosecution, having to try the case six times, but if I was defense counsel in this case, it would be a very worrisome outcome if the judge ruled against the motion for separate trials.

All Quiet In Charm City

It appears that there won’t be much of a protest today, despite the court hearing in the Freddie Gray case. I’ve been forwarded information indicating that the Greater Baltimore Committee has advised Baltimore businesses within the past hour that “[a]ctivity at this point is minimal,” with only “50-75 protesters in and around the courthouse area.” There has been one arrest.

So far so good then. Let’s hope it stays calm.

BREAKING: Freddie Gray Judge Denies 2 Motions

Judge Barry Williams has denied the first two motions by defense counsel in the Freddie Gray case, one to dismiss the case and to recuse Marilyn Mosby from the case.

In a victory for State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, Judge Barry Williams on Wednesday morning denied motions to dismiss charges against six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray and to recuse Mosby’s office from the case.

The hearing, which began at 9:30 a.m., is the first time prosecutors and defense attorneys are arguing verbally in a case that has played out for months through a flurry of written motions.
The arguments largely centered around the actions of Mosby and others in her office. The dismissal motion focused on statements Mosby made while announcing the charges against the officers on May 1 at the Baltimore War Memorial. The arguments on the recusal motion focused on the role Mosby and prosecutors played in her office’s independent investigation of Gray’s death.

Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow argued against the dismissal and recusal motions on behalf of the prosecution as Mosby sat behind. Andrew Graham, a defense attorney for Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., argued for the dismissal of charges. Catherine Flynn, a defense attorney for Officer Garrett E. Miller, argued for the recusal of Mosby.

One motion remains to be heard this afternoon - whether the defendants should be tried together or in individual trials. This is in my opinion the most likely of the three defense motions to be granted, so stay tuned.

Brace Yourselves

Tomorrow in Baltimore, the first court hearings in the Freddie Gray case will be heard in the Circuit Court on Calvert Street, just a few blocks up from the Inner Harbor. Demonstrations are planned and security will be at maximum levels. This has the potential to get out of hand.

Police and city officials have been preparing for protests — and possible unrest — in light of the hearings. The Police Department canceled leave to maximize availability of city officers for both hearings, a police spokesman said on Monday.

The Baltimore Sheriff’s Office, which is responsible for safety at the Calvert Street courthouse, also said it will have “an increased presence” in and around the courthouse.
Activist Duane “Shorty” Davis said his organization, Baltimore BLOC, is encouraging residents to engage in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience this week and next. He said they don’t plan to protest in West Baltimore, where the bulk of April’s unrest occurred, but downtown and in wealthier parts of the city.
“I want you to go to Canton, Fells Point, the Inner Harbor, the Orioles’ games,” Davis said. “We’re not just going to go in the black community and wave our hands. We’re going to the white communities.”

That is precisely the thing that the Baltimore police do not want to hear. Back in April, it appeared pretty clearly that there were more police around Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor than anywhere else, even as West Baltimore turned chaotic.

The hearing is on preliminary matters - whether the case should be dismissed, whether the defendants should be tried together or separately, and whether prosecutor Marilyn Mosby should be removed from the case. A second hearing on September 10 will decide whether the case remains in the City or gets shipped off to one of the suburbs.  One thing for sure - the protesters know what they want. 

“Our message is pretty obvious. Do not drop the charges. No change in venue. Do not recuse Marilyn Mosby,” said Sharon Black of the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly, an organization known for its protests against alleged police brutality. It is planning the demonstration at the downtown Circuit Court.
“Our demands are pretty simple. We want to keep the attention on those three issues.”

I’d say the separate trial issue is important, too. Trying essentially the same case six different times presents logistical nightmares for the prosecution, while defendants want separate trials so as not to taint their defense with bad evidence as to other defendants. Also, in a group trial, if the jury is split, a compromise verdict may end up with some defendants found guilty and others acquitted. In separate tries, that option is off the table.

Tomorrow’s going to be a crazy day in Charm City. And that’s just the start of what is likely to be a protracted legal process.

Freddie Gray Autopsy

The Freddie Gray autopsy report has been completed, and the Sun reports on the findings.

Freddie Gray suffered a single “high-energy injury” — like those seen in shallow-water diving incidents — most likely caused when the police van in which he was riding suddenly decelerated, according to a copy of the autopsy report obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

The state medical examiner’s office concluded that Gray’s death fit the medical and legal definition of an accident, but ruled it to be a homicide because officers failed to follow safety procedures “through acts of omission.”

Though Gray was loaded into the van on his belly, the medical examiner surmised that he may have gotten to his feet and was thrown into the wall during an abrupt change in direction. He was not belted in, but his wrists and ankles were shackled, making him “at risk for an unsupported fall during acceleration or deceleration of the van.”

If this is an accurate summary of the report - I have no reason to think it’s not - it presents a puzzlingly complex set of conclusions. Putting on my lawyer hat for a moment, a competent defense attorney can easily befuddle a jury with these findings. The fact that the medical examiner’s office did not, for example, find any serious injury before Gray was put in the police van, appears to contradict the video evidence that he was unable to use his legs and was in great pain.

I think the State’s case against the six Baltimore police officers just got a lot harder.

Police Use Of Force

Right now, Maryland is one of only nine states that has no law on the use of deadly force by the police. This is one of several issues identified in a new Amnesty International study discussed in a Baltimore Sun story on the deliberations of the joint House-Senate task force studying police issues.

Instead of a uniform statewide policy, each jurisdiction has created its own policy.

A review of use-of-force policies provided by the Maryland State Police and county police and sheriff’s departments in the Baltimore region, however, showed general similarities but also substantive variations in language and guidance to officers.

State troopers are permitted to use deadly force “in self-defense, or to defend another person who is being unlawfully attacked, from death or serious injury.” It may also be used “to prevent the escape of a felon” under certain circumstances, including when it is a last resort and the office has a reasonable belief that the individual “poses a significant threat of using deadly force against a trooper or others if not immediately apprehended.”

In Baltimore County, deadly force “may be applied in immediate danger situations, where present peril or jeopardy exists and the officer has a reasonable belief that action must be taken instantly or without considerable delay.”

In Howard County, deadly force “may only be used in self-defense or in the defense of others when an officer is confronted by what he has reason to believe is the imminent threat of death or serious physical injury,” or “as a last resort” to prevent the escape of a suspect who officers believe presents an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others.

The policies in Anne Arundel and Harford counties are similar.

All of the policies elaborate on the circumstances necessary for the use of deadly force in substantially different ways — discussing the use of vehicles by suspects, the use of canines by police and the amount of information an officer has about a suspect at the time of the incident.

This is not the best way to get it done, says Amnesty.

Justin Mazzola, an Amnesty International researcher who helped compile the report, said department-level policies are insufficient to bring about change.

“It’s not accountability,” Mazzola said. “A violation of a policy is an administrative infraction. It’s not what meets international law and standards when you are giving the authority to police to use not only force, but lethal force. That has to be codified within law.”

Predictably, police organizations are resistant to a uniform state law.

Harris, the Pittsburgh law professor, said any attempt by Maryland to restrict police beyond the federal standard will likely meet resistance from police departments and unions, which have generally fought to keep limits on their use of power in line with the standards established at the federal level.

“What police department is going to want to limit its police officers in terms of what they are constitutionally allowed to do?” Harris said.

* * *

[Senator Catherine] Pugh [co-chair of the task force] said the panel will review the Amnesty report, but also plans to talk about existing use-of-force policies with police agencies — which legislators do not wish to further alienate.

“Let’s not make [any new standard] so restrictive that people feel they can’t do their jobs,” she said. “We want police in our communities, but we want them to respect our communities.”

When even the idea of a new law on use of force results in pushback, it becomes clear that this process is not going to end well.