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First officer goes on trial in Freddie Gray death

Ann O'Neill and Aaron Cooper | 12/1/2015, 11 a.m.
The first of six city police officers went on trial Monday in a closely watched case involving a 25-year-old black ...
Six Baltimore, Maryland police officers, Lt. Brian Rice, Sgt. Alicia White, Ofc. William Porter, Ofc. Garrett Miller, Ofc. Edward Nero and Ofc. Caesar Goodson Jr. were indicted in the death of Freddie Gray on May 21, 2015. Gray was arrested by Baltimore police on April 12 and died on April 19. (Photo: CNN)

— The first of six city police officers went on trial Monday in a closely watched case involving a 25-year-old black prisoner who died after being shackled and placed without a seat belt in a Baltimore City police van.

The April 19 death of Freddie Gray made him a symbol of the black community's distrust of police. His name is now invoked with those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio; Eric Garner in New York; and other black men who died during encounters with white police officers. In Gray's case, three of the officers charged are white; three black.

On Monday, jury selection began in the trial of Officer William Porter, 26. Porter, who is black, is charged with manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment. He has pleaded not guilty.

The first pool of potential jurors included about 75 people, some 40 of whom are African American. The others are white, with the exception of one Latino and one East Indian.

All of them told Judge Barry Williams they knew about Gray's death and about a financial settlement the city had reached with his family.

Inside the courtroom, the chants of protesters outside could be heard clearly: "All night, all day, we're going to fight for Freddie Gray."

Following preliminary questions, potential jurors were individually questioned in a conference room out of view of reporters. About half of the potential jurors said they had been either the victim of a crime, investigated by law enforcement, convicted, incarcerated or were under pending criminal charges.

On Tuesday, a new pool of potential jurors will be brought into the courtroom for similar questioning. Some of those questioned Monday will be told they don't need to return; the remaining jurors from Monday will be asked to return on Wednesday.

Williams said opening statements and testimony would begin in the next few days and that the trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court would be over by December 17.

Officials have said Gray ran from officers who were trying to arrest him on April 12. He was taken into custody near his home in a public housing project called Gilmor Homes, in the heart of a West Baltimore neighborhood called Sandtown-Winchester. The streets there are lined with boarded-up row houses.

Still to be answered is one of the most troubling questions in this case: How exactly was Gray injured? Was he the target of a "rough ride," a reputed police tactic reserved for particularly resistant suspects?

This much is certain: Gray was animated and angry before his arrest. As he was being transported in the police van, Gray complained of having trouble breathing and asked for medical help. He was unconscious when he arrived at the substation. And a week later, he died in a hospital.

Although he is the first to go to trial, Porter isn't facing the most serious of the charges. Prosecutors have indicated in court filings that they consider Porter a potential witness against some of the other officers. If he is convicted, prosecutors could try to force his testimony in their trials.