A letter from Baltimore City Public School System CEO Gregory Thornton to parents concerning the trial of Baltimore Police officer William Porter, who stands accused of manslaughter, second-degree assault, and other crimes in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, drew reactions today from Mr Porter’s defense team and at least one community group.
The letter referred to the possibility of unrest and violence following the verdict and told students that any “student walkouts, vandalism, civil disorder, and any form of violence are not acceptable under any circumstances. … The district and our schools will do everything in their power to maintain the safety and security of our schools and our students.”
Gary Proctor, one of Mr Porter’s attorneys, filed a motion for a mistrial on the basis of the letter, arguing that, although the court had diligently reminded jurors not to read news accounts about the trial or seek out information about it not presented at trial, the court never said “don’t open your child’s homework packet.”
The prosecution argued that there was nothing “incendiary” in the letter and that all jurors had already said they could be impartial and would not allow outside factors, even if they had read a copy of the letter brought home by their child, to influence their judgment in this case.
Judge Barry G Williams agreed with the prosecution, ruling that the letter didn’t constitute grounds for a mistrial. A hung jury would, however, and as of Tuesday evening, following about 10 hours of deliberations over two days, the jury is said to be deadlocked.
Judge Williams ordered them to return Wednesday to continue deliberations and left open the possibility that his decision on Mr Thornton’s letter could be brought up on appeal.
It is considered routine to order a jury to continue deliberating after the first time they advise the court that they’re deadlocked. After a few times, though, the case reaches a point of “diminishing returns,” the Sun noted.
A group of community activists, known as Assata’s Syllabus, has called on students in Baltimore City to remain peaceful in their protests about the verdict as they exercise their free speech rights.
“While we appreciate the school system’s effort to keep students safe, we, the students of City Bloc, feel that Thornton’s stance will inevitably stifle student’s political agency and freedom of speech,” the group writes on its website. “By equating student walkouts with ‘vandalism, civil disorder, and [other] forms of violence,’ the BCPSS has characterized students’ voices as inherently violent and destructive to the city that we all are tasked with protecting.”