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City ready for 'whatever the outcome' of Thursday's motions hearing, mayor says

Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and interim police commissioner Kevin Davis say the city is prepared if any demonstrations become unruly during Thursday's motion hearing in the Freddie Gray case. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the city can expect a "soft presence" of police officers alongside expected protesters Thursday when a judge decides whether the six officers charged in Freddie Gray's death should be tried outside Baltimore.

Judge Barry Williams will hear arguments the officers' attorneys, who want to move the trials outside Baltimore, and prosecutors, who have argued that the trials should stay in the city.

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Davis said the police department has been monitoring social media, has been in communication with the community and is working with other law enforcement agencies in anticipation of protests Thursday.

"We don't know what the future holds but we're prepared to act or react to whatever scenarios unfold ahead of us," Davis said at a news conference Wednesday.

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He said the department does "expect and anticipate" protests.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she wanted to assure the city that "we are prepared for whatever the outcome of the motions hearing is tomorrow."

"We have shown through the last motions hearing day that we are prepared. We continue to work to strengthen the lines of communication and to ensure that we are prepared moving forward as the six trials move through the legal process."

Davis said all leave for officers was canceled for Thursday, as it was during the first motions hearing last week. He said officers won't be wearing riot gear, but noted "we certainly have that capability. We don't want to be provocative, we don't want to draw a line in the sand."

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Gray, 25, died in April after suffering a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody. His death prompted protests against police brutality, and his funeral was followed by a period of rioting, looting and arson in which hundreds of businesses were damaged. Gov. Larry Hogan called in the National Guard and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a weeklong curfew across the city.

Since the unrest in April, Davis said the department is now better prepared for potential unrest, after training officers and obtaining new equipment. "We now have real experiences to draw from," he said.

The issue of where the trials will be held is one of the biggest concerns for many protesters who demonstrated outside the downtown courthouse last week, though the issue was not considered by the judge at that hearing. Many expressed concern that a jury outside Baltimore would not adequately reflect the city's diversity.

Last week, the judge denied defense motions to dismiss the case and to recuse State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's office from the case. He also ruled that the six officers would receive separate trials.

Both Davis and Rawlings-Blake complimented the officers on how they handled last week's protests, which were largely peaceful and resulted in one arrest.

Davis said was contacted by protesters who told him they had attended many protests over many years and complimented "how far we've come as a police department."

He said it was a "healthy dialogue," of which he took some suggestions.

"The big thing is that we have a relationship with the protesters. They know that we are there for the same reasons that they're there. We're responsible for creating an environment where they can safely exercise their first amendment privileges," he said.

Davis said other jurisdictions will be partnering with the agency on Thursday.

"We'll have many jurisdictions with us tomorrow, and in the days ahead. We couldn't do this without them.," Davis said.

He added that Baltimore will be setting an example for other law enforcement agencies to follow in its response.

"We've come a long, long way," he said. "As the world is watching Baltimore, we are quickly serving as an example for other jurisdictions to follow."

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