Tuesday is the second day of jury selection for the trial of Officer William Porter, one of six officers charged in the case, which led to protests and rioting and added fuel to the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Monday, Judge Barry Williams questioned about 75 prospective jurors. A second group of 75 would be questioned Tuesday. On Wednesday, some of the potential jurors from each group will advance to a second round of questioning.
On Monday, Williams conducted initial questioning in the marble-walled courtroom, and then interviewed dozens of the prospective jurors in a private conference room. The large jury pool suggests how difficult the selection process could prove to be.
Gray was a 25-year-old black man who died April 19 of a severe spinal injury he received while in police custody.
Porter, who is also black, is accused of failing to get medical help for Gray during several stops made by the police van that carried Gray on a 45-minute trip. At the end, officers found Gray unresponsive. He was taken to a hospital and died a week later.
The officer is being tried first in part because prosecutors want to use him as a witness in the trials of several other officers. He is charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct and reckless endangerment.
The judge asked potential jurors Monday if any of them had not heard about the case, the citywide curfew imposed after Gray’s death or the $6.4 million settlement the city paid to his family. No one responded.
Williams read aloud more than 200 names of possible witnesses, a list that included more than 100 Baltimore police officers, lawyers and prosecutors. The judge said he expects the trial to wrap up by Dec. 17.
A small group of protesters gathered outside the downtown courthouse. Their chants of “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray,” could be heard throughout the morning proceedings.
Another demonstration began Monday evening before the court wrapped up its work for the day. People rallied outside the courthouse and later marched to the Inner Harbor, then past Baltimore’s World Trade Center office tower and the National Aquarium and on to City Hall. One carried a sign that read, “Stop the War on Black America.” A woman led a chant of “If we don’t get it,” with people responding, “shut it down.”
One prospective juror was taken to a hospital after tripping on courthouse stairs. Court spokeswoman Terri Charles said the woman suffered a knee injury.
A verdict is likely to set the tone for the city. If Porter is acquitted, there could be protests and possibly more unrest. A conviction could send shock waves through the city’s troubled police department.
“Everything is at stake. The future of the city is at stake,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has said.
Two other officers are black and the three additional officers are white. They will be tried separately beginning in January. Their trials are expected to last until the spring.
Gray was initially handcuffed. Later during his van ride, his legs were shackled and he was not put in a seat belt, a violation of department policy, prosecutors have said.
Porter told police investigators that arresting Gray “was always a big scene,” according to a pretrial filing by defense attorneys. Porter indicated that he knew of a previous arrest in which Gray allegedly tried to kick out the windows of a police vehicle.
“You know, so he was always, always, like, banging around,” Porter said in the statement excerpted in the filing. “It was always a big scene whenever you attempted to arrest Freddie Gray.”
Defense attorneys say that helps explain Porter’s actions during Gray’s arrest.