On the eve of the trial of the first Baltimore cop charged in the death of Freddie Gray last year, a Chicago police officer is charged with murder for shooting a 17-year-old, Laquan McDonald, armed with a knife 16 times. That shooting was in 2014; the murder charge was filed hours before the release of a dash cam video that shows the disturbing shooting. The Chicago indictment of Jason Van Dyke joins a growing list of news stories about police-involved shootings or deaths in custody making headlines for the past two years. The list includes the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY, Sandra Bland in Texas, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC.
When jury selection begins next Monday, the defense team for Baltimore officer William Porter has the added burden of dealing with an anti police climate. A major issue in this first trial is whether Porter acted unreasonably when he observed Freddie Gray be shackled and placed in the police transport van without a seatbelt. This occurred during the trip to the police station–but not when Gray was first placed in the van. Porter was not present when Gray was arrested on April 12, 2014; he was present, however, when the van made a later stop before arriving at the police station. (The State has conceded that Gray was not injured at the time of his arrest; rather the injury occurred during the transport after the stop during which the shackles were applied.) Should Porter have stepped up and insisted on placing a seatbelt on Gray?
I was recently asked what I see as the biggest hurdle for each side in Porter’s case–and only Porter’s case–not the other five officers charged. For the defense, I believe it’s the anti police climate, and the desire to right a wrong. An officer owes a duty of care to prisoners and may be responsible if that care if substandard, leading to injuries. For the State, I believe it’s taking what appears to be a civil wrong and convincing 12 jurors it rises to the level of a crime. Not every wrongdoing is a crime. Is the failure to seatbelt Gray such a gross deviation from the duty to care to a prisoner that Porter deserves to spend 10 years or more in prison?
What do you think?