The trial of the first Baltimore police officer charged in 25-year-old Freddie Gray's death in police custody back in April was declared a mistrial because of a hung jury on Wednesday. Officer William G. Porter reacted emotionally to the mistrial decision, as now he possibly faces another trial entirely. The hung jury could also set a precedent for the other five police officers who will be tried in connection with Gray's death.
Porter faced charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office for failing to put a seat belt on Gray when he was put in the back of a police escort van and for failing to provide medical assistance to Gray when he asked for it. While riding in the van, Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury that led to his death. Officers placed Gray in the van with his legs and arms shackled but with no restraint in the seat. Porter, along with the five other officers charged, pleaded not guilty.
As The Baltimore Sun pointed out on Saturday, Porter's case posed an interesting question for jurors: Could Porter be punished for inaction? In other words, is failing to do something the same thing as doing something wrong? The jurors apparently struggled too much to decide.
Porter testified during the trial, speaking calmly with his attorney but showing some mild frustration during cross-examination by the prosecutor. At one point, one of the prosecutors, Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow, asked Porter if there was a "stop snitching" culture in the Baltimore police department. Porter responded pointedly, "Absolutely not. I'm actually offended that you would say something like that."
Porter showed a similar emotion on Wednesday when he heard the decision. CBS News reported that he hung his head in his hands when the decision was announced in a clear sign of frustration that this would continue. The mistrial was declared three days after the 12-person panel left the courtroom to deliberate.
During Porter's trial, his defense team argued that there was no precedent for convicting a police officer for failing to put a seat belt on an arrestee. With Porter's mistrial now on the books, there still isn't that precedent, which could make all the difference for the other five officers to be tried. They all face similar charges, except for Officer Cesar Goodson Jr., who was driving the van. In addition to involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment, Goodson faces charges of manslaughter by vehicle and second-degree depraved-heart murder. The remaining five trials are scheduled to take place through March.