Saying that the defendants "have not met their constitutional burden" to show that Baltimore jurors would be prejudiced against them, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams denied a motion by the six police officers charged in Freddie Gray's death to move their trials to another jurisdiction.
"I do not find that the Constitution, statutes, and case law require a change of venue," Williams ruled shortly after 11 a.m.
Gray was 25 years old when his spine was partially severed during a ride in a police transport van in April after bicycle cops chased him down and arrested him on a Sunday morning. He died a week after the incident, sparking protest, riots, and intense, international media coverage. The six officers have been charged variously with assault, misconduct in office, reckless endangerment, manslaughter, and second degree depraved heart murder, based on their treatment of Gray during the arrest itself, their alleged failure to secure him in the van with a seatbelt, and their failure to render aid for his injuries.
The criminal charges against the officers calmed the city, but the defense lawyers argued that the riots—and the fear of further rioting should the cases not result in convictions—had made Baltimoreans eligible to serve as jurors unable to render a fair decision. Because of the rioting and the curfew that followed, "every citizen is a participant in the distraction," Ivan Bates, a lawyer for Sgt. Alicia White, argued for the defense panel. He cited the leak of the Medical Examiner's report to the media, the media's inverviews with Donte Allen, a prisoner who road in the van with Gray, and the announcement on Tuesday of a $6.4 million civil settlement to Gray's parents as factors that have indisputably tainted the jury pool.
Judge Williams called some of Bates' contentions "a slippery slope" before he even heard the prosecution's rebuttal by Michael Schatzow, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's chief deputy. The amount of the publicity doesn't matter, Schatzow argued; what matters is how one-sided it is. He claimed that the media coverage of the case was not prejudicial to the police and in fact has attacked the prosecutor. Removal to another jurisdiction is only done, he said "when you have a small community and an armed lynch mob at the door of the courthouse."
Bates then likened the riot, and the threat of more unrest, to that scenario. "Baltimore became a city under siege," Bates argued, "that but for the charges against the officers" threatened to erupt in flames.
Outside the courthouse a handful of protestors chanted "no justice, no peace" and "All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray." The sheriff's office reported one arrest of a woman who they said declined to move to a designated protest zone about 100 feet from the courthouse doors.
As court let out after the decision, photographers mobbed the few remaining protesters as police and deputies looked on. The court will reconvene at 2 p.m. to hear issues related to scheduling.