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Prosecutors Consider Retrial For Baltimore Officer Charged In Freddie Gray Death


Prosecutors in Baltimore are deciding whether to retry a police officer in the death of Freddie Gray. Gray is the black man whose neck was broken in police custody last April. A judge yesterday declared a mistrial in the case of Officer William Porter. Jurors said they could not agree on any of the four charges against him. Five other officers are also charged in the case, and they're to stand trial starting next month. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has more on the reaction to the mistrial and what's next.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Prosecutors and defense attorneys met with the judge today but gave no word on a new trial. They cited the judge's gag order. A retrial might depend on how the jury deadlock broke down - how many drivers were leaning which way. That's something we don't know, yet Reverend Kinji Scott says he, for one, was not shocked by the mistrial.

KINJI SCOTT: What you have is a few black jurors and a few white jurors. And we realize that there was some racial divide along the situation. And so we kind of - I kind of anticipated it.

LUDDEN: Still, he was hoping for a conviction on at least the lowest charge, misconduct in office. Activists against police brutality are pushing for a retrial along with Freddie Gray's family. Their lawyer, Billy Murphy, calls the mistrial just a bump in the road to justice. A lot of legal analysts, though, were expecting an acquittal. Former Baltimore prosecutor Warren Alperstein says it was a high legal bar to get convictions on these charges, but that didn't resonate in the court of public opinion.

WARREN ALPERSTEIN: A large problem is that for those that truly don't know the facts of this case, they're going to have their opinions, and you're not going to be able to change their minds.

LUDDEN: Take that video of Freddie Gray's arrest that went viral.


FREDDIE GRAY: (Screaming).

LUDDEN: Gray's pinned to the ground, then dragging his legs as he's placed in the police van. The image has galvanized protesters like homemaker Lynn Brooks, who stood outside the courthouse during part of the trial with a sign denouncing police terror.

LYNN BROOKS: They bent him up and stepped on his back. And that's when his neck broke. And that was way before he got in the van. They never brought that up.

LUDDEN: Some witnesses actually testified that once in the van, Gray flung himself against the sides, making it shake. Forensic experts for both the prosecution and defense said they were confident Gray's neck was broken later inside the van. Attorney Alperstein says the trial also aggravated long-standing anger toward police. Baltimore's paid out millions in recent years over allegations of mistreatment, including by those injured in police vans. And yet, Porter's lawyers defended his failure to seatbelt Gray. They're arguing that, hey, no one does that.

ALPERSTEIN: It looks bad when we know and the police department has - knows that these events have occurred in the past where people have been seriously injured by not being restrained. You'd like to think that they would've instituted new policies and procedures, and obviously they didn't.

LUDDEN: Even if the jury had reached a verdict in Officer Porter's trial, David Jaros at the University of Baltimore School of Law says many may not have found satisfaction.

DAVID JAROS: All of the issues that have become part of the Black Lives Matter movement are not the issues that are sort of being resolved in this criminal case.

LUDDEN: Jaros says the cases around Freddie Gray are not clearly about race. Half the officers charged, including Porter, are African-American, and none of the cases speak to why police stopped Gray in the first place. Jaros says charging these officers sent the message that the state will examine police behavior, and he says that's good.

JAROS: But whether or not we're really going to be able to explore the deep troubling issues about policing in poor communities in the scope of a criminal trial against specific police officers - I think that's profoundly limited.

LUDDEN: And that's true, he says, no matter what future juries may decide about Porter or the other five officers. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.