Baltimore Protests Remain Peaceful After Mistrial In Freddie Gray Case

Dec 17, 2015
Originally published on December 17, 2015 1:09 pm
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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

All was calm last night in Baltimore after a mistrial in the case of one of the six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Gray is the young black man who suffered fatal injury in police custody last April. Officer William Porter has been on trial in Gray's death for nearly three weeks. But yesterday afternoon, jurors said they could not reach a verdict on any of the four charges against him, and the judge declared a mistrial. Protesters outside the courthouse vowed to push for a retrial.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray. All night...

MONTAGNE: And NPR's Jennifer Ludden has been covering the trial. She joins us from Baltimore. Good morning, Jennifer.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What has been the reaction, not so far any violence. But what has been the reaction to this mistrial?

LUDDEN: You know, some people were shocked, a little stunned. A lot, though, were disappointed. I did meet one man who said he thought this would happen. He said he figured the jury broke along racial lines. Though, we don't know that. Seven of the 12 jurors were African-American, just like the defendant, Officer William Porter. Someone else said he saw the mistrial as just part of the whole corrupt system. Kirk Jones (ph) was walking by the courthouse with the pizza box on his way to dinner. He said, you know, he was cynical but also disappointed because he said that after Freddie Gray's death, this city had really pulled together in protest.

KIRK JONES: It brought unity to the city. Even though it was tragedy, people wanted to come together and go forward, fix the police station and do the right things. So all these people who are going forward, trying to do the right things, you see it's a roadblock. And there's some extra corruption here. And that's a slap in the face to all the people trying to stand up and go forward and fix the justice system.

LUDDEN: So activists who have been protesting police brutality really see this as a loss. They're calling on the state to retry the case. So is the NAACP and Freddie Gray's family. Their lawyer, Billy Murphy, just calls this mistrial a bump on the road to justice.

MONTAGNE: And is a retrial likely?

LUDDEN: Well, prosecutors and the defense will meet with a judge today to talk about a retrial. You know, it might depend on what the breakdown of the jury was, how many were leaning which way. And that's something we don't know. But legal analysts have said all along this was a difficult case. You know, it wasn't like Porter was accused of shooting Freddie Gray or beating him up. The allegation here was homicide by omission, you know, failing to call a medic or to buckle his seatbelt. And analysts have said that's a really high legal bar for conviction. One man I spoke with also thinks a big challenge was the defense argument that, hey, you know, hardly anyone seatbelts detainees in police vans. Neill Franklin (ph) was outside the courthouse as well. He's actually a former trainer with the Baltimore police.

NEILL FRANKLIN: I think a big part of it was their defense made the case that this is common practice in Baltimore City. And we're going to hold this one person responsible for this culture. It's common practice of not following policy. And I think the ones that held out from convicting, I think that's what they felt. You know, we're not going to make one person responsible for a failure, a systemic failure, in the entire police department.

LUDDEN: So a systemic problem, he calls it. And you hear that from so many people in Baltimore. And a lot of people say, you know, that's not something that you're going to solve in a courtroom.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, William Porter was just the first of six officers who face separate trials, the other five too, in Freddie Gray's death. What does his mistrial mean for those other trials that are coming up?

LUDDEN: There could be a ripple effect. You know, prosecutors have said that Porter is a key material witness in two of those cases, including the case against the police van's driver, Caesar Goodson. He is scheduled to go on trial January 6. He faces the most harsh charges here, including second-degree murder. But lawyers say that if Porter's case is still pending, that would allow him to take - avoid testifying by pleading the Fifth, in which case prosecutors might have to rethink their whole strategy here.

MONTAGNE: All right, well, much more to come on that story. NPR's Jennifer Ludden in Baltimore, thanks very much.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.