Freddie Gray trials to stay in Baltimore, judge rules

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Freddie Gray

BALTIMORE — The trials of six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray will remain in the city, a judge ruled Thursday as he rejected defense arguments that impartial jurors could not be found there.

“The citizens of Baltimore are not monolithic. They think for themselves,” Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams said after denying the officers’ motion to move their six separate trials from Baltimore.

The ruling means defense attorneys and prosecutors will attempt to seat dozens of jurors from the city — 12 for each case, plus alternates — for the trials set to begin later this year.

Six police officers are charged in the death of Gray, who authorities say suffered a fatal spinal injury while being transported in a Baltimore police van in April.

In a hearing Thursday morning, an attorney for the officers argued for the trial to be moved elsewhere in Maryland. The defense has said the Gray case has affected everyone in the pool of potential Baltimore jurors — in part because of the destructive protests and the daily curfew that followed.

Gray’s 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.

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

Defense attorney Ivan Bates also told the judge that the city’s decision Wednesday to settle potential civil claims by Gray’s family for $6.4 million also hindered citizens’ impartiality, asserting that Baltimore taxpayers effectively are paying for it.

Riots caused millions of dollars of damage, and businesses that weren’t damaged still were disrupted, defense attorneys argued.

They also said 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.

“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 attorneys wrote in a motion asking for the venue change.

Prosecutors argued that impartial jurors still could be found through the normal jury selection process. Both sides will ask potential jurors questions designed to determine if they can consider the case impartially.

Settlement means no civil suit

As for the 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 the decision to settle 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 each officer’s criminal trial plays out and they cannot be sued.

CNN’s Aaron Cooper and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.