This afternoon, around 4:00 P.M., I was driving my mother from Northeast Baltimore to the Central Post Office in Baltimore, on the eastern edge of downtown. On Harford Road, near Clifton Park, I spotted two helicopters hovering over downtown. My mother asked me to turn on the radio, to a news station.
That is how I learned that Judge Barry G. Williams declared a mistrial in the case of Officer William Porter, the first of six Baltimore City Police Officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, after a mere 48 hours of jury deliberation. Technically, this was Day 3 of the deliberations, but in fact, the jury had deliberated for only 48 hours.
Initially, I was really upset at Judge Williams for “caving” to his own arbitrary deadline—it appears that at the beginning of the trial, he promised the jury they would be done by December 17. Legally, there was no set time for the deliberations! But certainly, I thought, the jury could have kept going until tomorrow.
I am still disappointed, but I am thankful for three things: (1) that the prosecutor will probably retry this case, (2) that Baltimoreans’ response to the mistrial has so far been peaceful, and (3) that the other five officers still face their day in court and could still be brought to justice in this case.
I began writing this article yesterday. I wanted to try to dig out the meat of this case, for my own understanding, and for people who live outside of Baltimore, as much as for other Baltimoreans like myself. There are details about what happened to Freddie Gray that just don’t add up. What follows is the story I began writing yesterday.
When I heard late yesterday afternoon that the jury in the Officer Porter case—the first of six trials concerning the death of Freddie Gray—was deadlocked, I was dismayed and more than a little worried. But, then, I considered their dilemma.
First, even though it appears as though this trial flew by, this is a complex case that has taken several weeks to complete—from the selection of the jurors to the closing arguments. At the time the local news outlets began to report the deadlock, only a little more than 24 hours had elapsed since the beginning of the jury’s deliberations. In addition to Monday’s daunting instructions from Judge Barry Williams, the jury must sift through approximately 2 weeks of testimony and evidence, some of it conflicting or, at the least, concerning. Second, there is a lot riding on this jury’s verdicts: besides the impact of their decisions on the life and future of the defendant, Officer William Porter (who faces a 25-year jail sentence if convicted), this jury’s decision could affect the state of Baltimore—if they decide to acquit, or if they are unable to come to a unanimous decision, there could be a violent aftermath from activists and protesters. Granted, the reaction of the citizens of Baltimore to their decision is not central to their job as jurors, but it certainly is part of the weight they must carry in deciding this case.
Thus, I think it is unreasonable to assume that the jury could come to any decision, much less a unanimous one, in what is now technically 48 hours (although it is being reported as day 3) of deliberations.
I only know what I’ve read and heard in the media and what I observed at Monday’s closing arguments. I can only imagine the kinds of questions and concerns the jury must have. So, to try to sort all this out for myself, I decided to piece together, as best I can, the essentials of this case.
What Exactly Happened on April 12, 2015?
I decided to take a look at the timeline of events as reported by The Baltimore Sun, along with the notes I took in court yesterday, in order to get a better understanding of what happened.
In this narrative [Source: http://data.baltimoresun.com/news/freddie-gray/], italic text indicates my conjectures and/or questions about the narrative.
On Sunday, April 12, 2015, at 8:39 A.M., four Baltimore Police Officers on bicycles tried to stop Freddie Gray and a second man after the two men ran after making eye contact with a lieutenant at the corner of W. North Avenue and N. Mount Street, in West Baltimore. At 8:40, the bicycle cops caught and arrested Mr. Gray in the 1700 block of Presbury Street. Gray stopped voluntarily, and no force was used. At 8:42, officers requested a van to transport Mr. Gray to the police station; Mr. Gray requested an inhaler (presumably because he was short of breath?). At 8:46, the driver of the transport van (Officer Goodson) believed that Mr. Gray was acting irate in the back of the van. The van was stopped ‘so that paperwork can be completed, and at that point Mr. Gray is placed in leg irons and put back in the wagon.’ At this time, the van was said to have cleared Mount Street, heading for Central Booking, which is in eastern/downtown Baltimore. But at 8:59, the van made a [second?] stop at Fremont Avenue and Mosher Street, which was recorded by a private security camera. At Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Streets, the driver of the van requested an additional unit to check on Mr. Gray. [Apparently, this is the point at which Officer Porter enters the scene—he is the “backup” officer assigned to check on Freddie Gray.] Minutes later, the van driver receives a call to 1600 W. North Avenue, to pick up another prisoner. Before picking up this second prisoner, there is some communication with Mr. Gray (i.e., Officer Porter gets in the van and checks on Freddie Gray). Officer Rodriguez indicates that the “checking” involves assessing Gray’s condition, how the officers responded, and “whether they were able to act accordingly.” At 9:26 A.M., the City Fire Department got a distress call for an ‘unconscious’ male at the Western District Police Station. Freddie Gray is now in serious medical distress. At 9:33 A.M., the Medic Unit arrived at the police station. [This situation is starting to remind me of the missing 18 minutes in Richard Nixon’s secret tapes!!! What the hell happened, and why are they at Western District, when they were supposedly on their way to Central Booking??? The officers knew that Central Booking would not accept an injured or ill prisoner, for one thing.] After 21 minutes (at 9:54 A.M.), the Medic Unit transported Mr. Gray to Maryland Shock Trauma at University Hospital, downtown, arriving there at 10:00 A.M. Mr. Gray had surgery for his spinal injuries on April 14; he remained in a coma until his death on April 18.
The “Meat” of the Case
The “meat” of this case is this: (1) How and when was Freddie Gray catastrophically injured, with his neck feeling soft to the touch (according to an EMT), and his spine broken, and (2) Who is responsible for these fatal injuries?
Officer Porter, still considered a “rookie” cop, with 2 years on the job, was present at 5 of the 6 stops the van made on its circuitous route to book Freddie Gray for running away from the police when he had done nothing illegal. Porter was the one who “checked on” Mr. Gray in the van. He was the one who suggested to his superiors that Mr. Gray needed medical attention. But that attention was not given until it was too late.
The jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision on at least one of the four counts against Officer Porter, and now, another jury might have to be picked to retry this case, and the five other officers still face separate trials for their roles in the death of Freddie Gray.
As troubled as Baltimore City may be, and as disappointed as I am that this was a hung jury, I am proud that we proved the naysayers wrong—we are capable people who take seriously our duty as citizens to sit on a jury and do the best job we can.
I will continue to follow this case, in the hope that the many troubling questions about the inaction and, possibly actions, that led to this thoroughly unnecessary death in police custody—which has served as a strange catalyst to the highest murder rate in Baltimore City in 40 years.