Freddie Gray trials likely to cost the city millions

Using high-profile trials elsewhere as a benchmark, Baltimore can expect to spend millions of dollars on police overtime, courtroom security and logistics to prepare and protect the city for the six trials in the Freddie Gray case.

The cost surrounding the five-week trial for George Zimmerman — the neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida who was acquitted in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin — climbed to nearly $1 million.


Baltimore is now bracing for six such trials.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Thursday that she has no estimate of how much it might cost the city to host the court proceedings for the six police officers charged in connection with Gray's death in April. The city has already spent at least $450,000 on police coverage during two days of largely peaceful pretrial hearings last week and Thursday.


Rawlings-Blake spoke at a news conference after Judge Barry Williams rejected a defense motion to move the trials out of Baltimore.

"I'm confident that the judge has made the right decision," she said. "To the people of Baltimore, to the businesses, to the institutions, I want to be very clear that we are prepared today, as we were last week and as we will be going forward."

Rawlings-Blake said the city has improved its police training, bought new equipment and developed a new communication strategy in the months since the riots of April.

Gray died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. The officers involved in his arrest and transport have been charged with violations ranging from misconduct in office to second-degree murder.

All have pleaded not guilty. The first trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 13.

The city approved a $6.4 million civil settlement this week with Gray's family.

Hamin Shabazz, chairman of the criminal justice department at Stevenson University, said the cost of hosting the trials in Baltimore could bring the city's outlay to $10 million.

"The more serious the charge, the more lengthy the trial will be," said Shabazz, a former police officer in Camden, N.J. "It's difficult to calculate the overall cost when you look at the seriousness of the charges for the six separate cases. It could cost the city a great deal of money."


In addition to city police and sheriff's deputies, Shabazz said, the U.S. Marshals Service, the federal Department of Homeland Security and officers from neighboring jurisdictions are likely to be tapped.

"Then the question will be, who is going to foot the bill?" Shabazz said.

George R. "Bob" Dekle, director of the criminal prosecution clinic at the University of Florida law school, said he's skeptical that the trials will actually remain in Baltimore.

Dekle, a former state prosecutor and public defender in Florida, said it might be necessary to sequester all the jurors needed to serve on all six cases at once to ensure that juries are not influenced by the media coverage of any of the preceding trials.

"In my neck of the woods, whenever we had a motion for a change of venue, the judge would usually attempt to select a jury in the jurisdiction, and see how things went before making a final ruling," Dekle said. "I think the longest we went was about three days before the judge would say, 'Put out the fire, call in the dogs, we're going to move this case.'"

The Zimmerman trial in Sanford, Fla., cost taxpayers at least $902,000, the Orlando Sentinel reported in 2013. Given the unique circumstances surrounding the trials in Baltimore, Dekle said, it's impossible to predict what might happen.


While there are some parallels between the Zimmerman case in Florida and the prosecution of the police officers in Baltimore, Dekle said, the gatherings outside the courthouse in Sanford did not have the level of tension seen in Baltimore.

"No buildings got burned down in the Zimmerman case," he said. "People postured for the news media, gave television interviews and gathered around in circles. They didn't break out stealing things and burning things and attacking police officers."

Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the city has made strides since April to prepare for the trials. "We have some work ahead of us, and that work is ongoing," he said. "We will continue to get better."

Davis said he has been reaching out to organized groups of protesters to discuss a peaceful path forward for the city, and to help each understand the other's role better.

Speaking to protesters outside the courthouse Thursday, Davis tried to emphasize the department's work to improve relations with the community.

"This process has a long way to go," he said. "We've got six criminal trials coming up, and it's my intention to be a part of this process at each and every step of the way."


Sharon Black, an organizer with Peoples Power Assembly, said the police still must do significant work to build relationships with the community. She said none of the members of the Peoples Power Assembly had been approached by Davis about meeting, despite a request they sent months ago to then-Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts. Rawlings-Blake fired Batts in July.

"We don't think there are good relations," Black said. She pointed to the arrest Wednesday of the Rev. Westley West, a pastor with Faith Empowered Ministries who was charged with attempting to incite a riot during a march last week.

"We think it's worse. We think there is a much more chilling atmosphere. To charge a minister, a pastor with inciting a riot, that's overkill."

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said many in the city are hopeful that any protests that unfold during the trials will be peaceful, as they have been for the most part during the two pretrial motions hearings.

Some businesses, particularly restaurants, hotels and attractions, are still recovering from the unrest in April, he said. The ones hurt the most have been those with larger out-of-town clientele, he said.

Maryland Policy & Politics

Maryland Policy & Politics


Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.

"We haven't seen a return to the anxiety levels that we saw in late April and early May," Fowler said. "There's an obvious concern, and everyone wants to see justice. These are difficult things to handle for a city."


Still, Cathy Sidlowski, who owns Freesia, a women's apparel boutique in Fells Point, said she feels despondent over the prospect of months of court wranglings and negative media attention on the city.

Business at her Thames Street shop is down 15 percent to 20 percent compared to last year. She blames the decline, in part, on the city's current national image.

"It looks like bombed-out Beirut. The media has a way of filming to make it look as dramatic as possible," she said. "I can't imagine how many businesses will go under.

"Six trials. This is not going to be over in a couple of months."