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WYPR Coverage of Porter Mistrial

Rachel Baye/WYPR
Baltimore City police block a street near the city courthouse after a mistrial was declared in the trial of Officer William Porter

Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams declared a mistrial Wednesday afternoon after the jurors in the case of Officer William Porter said they were hopelessly deadlocked on all four counts against him.

Porter, the first of six officers to be tried in the death in police custody last April of Freddie Gray, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

As word of the mistrial spread demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse.  Activist Kwame Rose and an unidentified youth were arrested, both for failure to obey a lawful order and for disturbing the peace by using a bullhorn outside the courthouse during business hours.

It is unclear how the mistrial will affect the trials of the remaining officers, which were to begin next month. Porter had been expected to be a witness in at least one of those trials. His lawyers and the prosecutors are to meet in Judge Williams’ chambers Thursday to discuss a possible date for a retrial.

Neither the prosecution nor defense lawyers could comment on the Porter case or the others because of a gag order Judge Williams has imposed. The identities of the jurors have been withheld and it’s unlikely they will speak publicly.

David Jaros, a University of Baltimore law professor, said it’s not clear whether prosecutors will choose to re-try Officer Porter, or whether the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson, who drove the van in which Freddie Gray was injured --now scheduled for Jan. 6--would be affected by the mistrial in Porter's case.

Religious and community leaders spoke of frustration in the city.

Dayvon Love, co-founder of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, said e finds it frustrating that justice is determined by what he called "legal machinations."

Ralph Moore, who works with homeless young people as program director of Restoration Gardens, in Park Heights, said there’s a widespread sense in the community that injustice was done to Freddie Gray, and that police officers should be held accountable.

Rev. Heber Brown, pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, said he was joining the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and other groups for a discussion Wednesday night with lawyers and others at the Real News Network on Holliday Street.

Community activist Deray McKesson said the jury’s failure to reach a decision underscores the need for legal reforms, including changes to the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. Some of those changes died in committee during the last General Assembly session.

Elder C.W. Harris of Newborn Community of Faith said he considers the war against drugs the root cause of problems between the police and the community.

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott said he recognized right of citizens to protest, but urged that protestors take a long view.

"This is part of a process," he said. "We have to respect the decision that 12 Baltimore citizens made. But we also have to recognize that this is not the end."

He said city leaders have a responsibility to highlight for young and discouraged protestors the difference between acquittal and a hung jury.