City officials and schools in Baltimore, a city hit by rioting earlier this year, braced for the possibility of more violent protests as a jury on Tuesday deliberated the case of a police officer charged in the death of a black detainee.
Officer William Porter, 26, is on trial for manslaughter and other charges in Freddie Gray’s death from a broken neck suffered in the back of a police van. Gray’s death in April triggered protests and rioting and intensified a U.S. debate on police treatment of minorities.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she was opening an emergency operations center and pleaded for calm.
“Whether you agree or whether you disagree with the jury’s ultimate verdict, our reaction has to be one of respect in Baltimore’s neighborhoods,” she said.
Baltimore City Public Schools Chief Executive Greg Thornton sent a note to parents, students and staff saying that safety was the schools’ paramount concern and that violence would not be tolerated.
Police have canceled all leave in light of the imminent jury decision.
Porter is the first of six officers to face trial. He also faces charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
The charges against the other officers range from second-degree murder to misconduct. Three of the six officers, including Porter, are black.
Gray, 25, was arrested after fleeing from police. He was put in a transport van, shackled and handcuffed, but he was not secured by a seat belt despite department policy to do so.
At one of the van’s stops, Gray told Porter he needed medical aid and Porter helped him onto a van bench.
According to testimony, Porter told the van’s driver and a supervisor that Gray had asked for aid but none was summoned.
Defense lawyers have argued that Porter acted responsibly by passing along Gray’s request for aid.
To prove involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors must show Porter’s conduct differed widely from what an officer reasonably would have done.
Baltimore agreed in September to pay Gray’s family a $6.4 million civil settlement over his death.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Donna Owens; Editing by Peter Cooney)