Freddie Gray trials to stay in Baltimore, judge rules

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Riots broke out in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 27, 2015, following the funeral of Freddie Gray. Gray, an 25-year-old man, died in police custody on April 19 following an April 12 arrest. Gray's family reached a $6.4 million settlement with the city, a source close to the family said Tuesady, September 8, 2015.

BALTIMORE — A Baltimore judge on Thursday denied the defendants’ motion to move the Freddie Gray trials out of Baltimore.

“The citizens of Baltimore are not monolithic. They think for themselves,” Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams said.

Previously:

A judge will announce Thursday whether he will move the trials of six police officers in the Freddie Gray case out of Baltimore.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams heard arguments from the officers’ attorneys, who asserted that the officers couldn’t receive a fair trial in the city. Williams took a short recess after the morning arguments and said he would rule at about 10:45 a.m. ET.

The hearing comes a day after Baltimore officials approved a $6.4 million deal to settle all civil claims tied to Gray’s death.

Gray suffered a fatal spinal injury while he was transported in a Baltimore police van in April. Six police officers face charges in the case.

His death sparked outrage and days of massive protests, including some that turned violent. Buildings went up in flames, and local businesses were devastated by vandalism and looting — despite the Gray family’s pleas for peace.

Defense: Every potential Baltimore juror affected by protests, curfew

Lawyers for the six police officers have asked Williams to move their trials to a different part of Maryland, arguing that everyone in the pool of potential Baltimore jurors was affected by the Gray case, in part because of the destructive protests and the daily curfew that followed.

Everyone in Baltimore was under the city-wide curfew and subject to arrest if they didn’t obey it, so every potential jury member was affected, the lawyers argued.

“During the course of the riots, law enforcement personnel and citizens were injured, millions of dollars of property was destroyed, the economy was severely damaged, city government was shut down and the daily functioning of medical facilities, education, the judiciary, public transportation, traffic and business were disrupted,” the defense lawyers wrote in an initial motion asking for the venue change.

“The number of Baltimore city residents that would be on any potential jury pool that were personally affected, or that had families or close friends affected would render the voir dire and jury selection process useless,” the defense attorneys wrote.

The defense attorneys also argued that high-profile city officials made what the defense asserts were prejudicial statements about the case, making it even harder for unbiased jurors to be found in the city.

Settlement means no civil suit

As for the $6.4 million civil settlement approved Wednesday, it does not “represent any judgment” on the guilt or innocence of the six police officers charged, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. “This settlement represents an opportunity to bring closure to the Gray family, the community and the city.”

Rawlings-Blake is part of a five-person panel that handles the city’s financial affairs and approved the settlement.

Gray’s family negotiated the deal with city attorneys, a source close to the family told CNN.

“All of us realize that money cannot, will not — there’s no possibility — to bring back a loved one,” the mayor said. “I hope that this settlement will bring a level of closure for the family, for the police department and for our city.”

She and others on the panel said that the decision to settle with the family was weighed against the high cost of fighting an anticipated civil suit.

“We can avoid years and years of protracted civil litigation,” Rawlings-Blake said.

Six officers on trial

The officers charged in Gray’s death are not named in the settlement, said City Solicitor George Nilson.

Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby has said Gray’s injury in April occurred because he was handcuffed and shackled — but not buckled in — in the police van. Six officers will stand trial on charges ranging from assault to murder. All six have pleaded not guilty.

Gray family attorney Billy Murphy said settling potential civil claims without litigation was “an extraordinary result.” Litigation, he said, puts family members “through hell.”

If a civil case went to court, he added, “it could easily have taken three years to resolve, and no grieving family wants to go through that,” he said. “And our city would not want to go through that.”

Police: Deal a bad idea

Before the announcement of the settlement, the head of Baltimore’s police union, which represents the six officers, said it would be premature to approve the deal with Gray’s family.

“To suggest that there is any reason to settle prior to the adjudication of the pending criminal cases is obscene and without regard to the fiduciary responsibility owed to (taxpayers),” said Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police.

“There has been no civil litigation filed, nor has there been any guilt determined that would require such a ridiculous reaction.”

Ryan had urged the city committee to reject the settlement pact.

“This news threatens to interrupt any progress made toward restoring the relationship between the members of the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore city government,” he said.

Mayor responds to criticism

In comments to reporters later Wednesday morning, the mayor reacted to Ryan’s comments.

“Gene’s statements continue to baffle me, because what this settlement does is remove any (civil) liability from the six officers,” she said.

The settlement, she said, ensures that however each officer’s criminal trial plays out, they cannot be sued in civil court.

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