A Baltimore judge overseeing the trial of a police officer charged in a black detainee’s death rejected a defense bid to move the case on Tuesday, as the city braced for possible trouble once the jury reaches a verdict.
Officer William Porter, 26, is on trial for manslaughter and other charges in the death of Freddie Gray from a broken neck sustained 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.
The jury of seven women and five men started deliberations on Monday in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Defense lawyer Gary Proctor asked Judge Barry Williams to declare a mistrial, order a change of venue and question the jury.
He asked for the venue change on the grounds the city is too sensitive to the case and cited a letter sent from the head of the city’s public schools to students, staff and parents on Monday warning that violence and walkouts would not be tolerated after a verdict.
Williams rejected the request. “We have drilled it into the jurors every day to remain impartial,” he said.
Defense attorneys have repeatedly asked that the trial be moved, saying the unrest and publicity tainted prospects for a fair trial.
Baltimore, a black majority city of about 620,000 people, has braced for possible trouble from a verdict, and U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, who represents Gray’s neighborhood, urged calm.
“We are well-advised to respect the jury’s decision whatever our personal feelings,” Cummings, a Democrat, said at a news conference.
Baltimore has opened an emergency operations center and police leave has been canceled. Officers from outside Baltimore have been readied to help if needed.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis sent a letter to officers on Monday saying the department would protect the city at the same time as allowing peaceful protests.
The University of Baltimore also sent an email to students on Monday with advice on how to deal with demonstrations.
Porter is the first of six officers to face trial. He also faces charges of assault, endangerment and 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.
Gray told Porter he needed medical aid and Porter put 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.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Donna Owens; Editing by Frances Kerry)