BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A Baltimore judge on Thursday denied a request for a change of venue for the trials of six police officers charged in the death of a black man who died from an injury in police custody.
The death of Freddie Gray Jr. in April triggered protests, including a day of rioting, and fueled a U.S. debate on police treatment of minorities.
Defense lawyers for the officers had argued before Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams that intense publicity made it impossible to hold a fair trial in Baltimore.
“The citizens of Baltimore are not monolithic,” Williams told a packed courtroom. “They think for themselves.”
Protesters outside the courthouse cheered the decision, as did Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
“It will allow the city to focus on healing,” she told reporters.
But one of the lawyers representing the six officers expressed disappointment.
“The information which has been made public by the state omits very crucial and important facts and paints a very inaccurate picture of what really happened on that April day,” said Ivan Bates, speaking on behalf of the entire defense team.
“Now we turn to the citizens of Baltimore city. We ask you to listen to the entire story and we ask you to honestly figure out what happened in that van,” he said.
The hearing came a day after the city’s financial control board approved a $6.4 million civil settlement to the Gray family.
Rawlings-Blake said the settlement would help avoid a drawn-out legal process and resolve any civil claims against Baltimore and the officers.
The Fraternal Order of Police criticized the settlement because it had been reached before the officers’ cases were heard. Their separate trials are set to begin next month.
Police arrested Gray, 25, on April 12 after a foot chase in crime-ridden West Baltimore. He was bundled into a police transport van while shackled and handcuffed and was not placed in a seatbelt. Officers ignored his request for medical aid.
He died a week later from a spinal injury, sparking protests and rioting in the largely black city of about 620,000 people. National Guard troops were sent in to restore order and Rawlings-Blake imposed a curfew.
The officers face charges ranging from second-degree
depraved heart murder to assault and misconduct. Three of the officers are white and three are black, including one woman.
Reporting by Donna Owens; Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Beech