Jury Selection To Begin In First Trial In Freddie Gray Case
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Jury selection begins today for a Baltimore police officer. The officer is the first of six charged in the death of Freddie Gray. He, of course, was the unarmed black man fatally injured after his arrest and transport in a police van in back in April. His death set off looting and arson and a weeklong curfew in Baltimore. NPR's Jennifer Ludden is now at the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse. Jennifer, what's it feel like to be in Baltimore now?
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Well, you know, right here outside the courthouse, it's a pretty typical rush-hour morning. You've got traffic going right by. You do have some cameras and photographers and reporters lining up outside and posted on the corners. But, you know, in the wider city - I've spent a lot of time here recently - and, you know, people are really bracing for this. They're following it very closely. I've spoken to people who've been going on YouTube and researching the officers in this trial. There's a lot of people who feel a lot at stake here. People in Freddie Gray's neighborhood say they've felt mistreatment by police for years. And they really want some accountability. And they're hoping that it comes out of these trials.
INSKEEP: Are people saying that this mistreatment has continued even since all the attention was focused on this in April?
LUDDEN: Well, you know, I find that people feel very little has changed. You have seen here, as with a number of cities across the country, a spike in homicides. Now, this is different. People say this is, you know, so-called black-on-black violence. You've not seen police officers engaged so much. In fact, some people complain that the police here have pulled back since the unrest that we saw earlier this spring, after Freddie Gray's funeral. And so there's this weird concern where they complain about overaggressive policing and yet are worried that the police aren't actually doing as much as they could to stop this spike in homicides - but really, a broad, broad sentiment that people want to see convictions out of these trials. And they're concerned for what might happen, if there will be more unrest if that doesn't pan out.
INSKEEP: And of course, we can hear cars in the street there in front of Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse, where NPR's Jennifer Ludden is awaiting the beginning of today's trial. Who is the first officer now to go on trial?
LUDDEN: He is William Porter. He was called as a backup when Freddie Gray was traveling in that police van. Porter came and checked on him a couple of times. He apparently asked if Gray needed help. A really key part of this is The Baltimore Sun has reported that it has seen Porter's statement to police investigators. Those are not public, but The Baltimore Sun says they've seen them. And they report that Porter told police investigators he warned the driver of this van that the central booking wouldn't take Gray because he was in medical distress. Now, Porter apparently also said he wondered if Gray was faking it - you know, just acting sick so officers would take him to the hospital instead of jail, which he said was pretty common. But this statement of Porter's has kind of made him a key. And so that is why he is here up first.
INSKEEP: When you say a key, what makes him a key?
LUDDEN: Well, prosecutors say that he is a material witness in at least two other cases, that of the driver of the van, Officer Caesar Goodson, who faces the most severe charge of second-degree murder, and also the other officer that was with him, Sergeant Alicia White. You know, if you have Porter warning these two that Gray is in distress, that potentially could help the prosecutor's case that they did not render him medical aid. But again, it could go either way. So the rest of the cases could hinge on what comes out of Porter's trial.
INSKEEP: So it works its way up, the prosecution does, from this trial that begins today. And NPR's Jennifer Ludden is covering it there in Baltimore. Jennifer, thanks.
LUDDEN: Thank you.
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