Baltimore officers, unable to make arrests, forced to retreat under a barrage of rocks, bottles and concrete blocks.

Baltimore officers, unable to make arrests, forced to retreat under a barrage of rocks, bottles and concrete blocks.

Just in case you, gentle reader, are not yet convinced that the Freddie Gray case represents a textbook argument for a change of venue, consider this 12-12-15 report from The Baltimore Sun:

Baltimore police have canceled leave next week for officers ‘out of an abundance of caution,’ as jurors are expected to begin deliberations as early as Monday in the case against Officer William G. Porter.

All sworn personnel will be assigned to 12-hour shifts, under a plan by Commissioner Kevin Davis to ensure the Police Department is adequately staffed.

It is common for law enforcement agencies to do this, but only when they are expecting real trouble. It’s also a clear indication that the BPD is chronically understaffed. And what’s the real trouble expected in The Charm City?

Attorneys are expected to present closing arguments Monday in Porter’s case. He is one of six officers charged in connection with the April arrest and death of Freddie Gray; all six have pleaded not guilty.

Davis announced the decision to cancel leave on Friday, but he did not provide many details. Gray’s death sparked widespread protesting and rioting across the city.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said Saturday officers are expected to have all equipment necessary to be prepared for various circumstances. He would not say whether officers were expected to have riot gear on hand. [skip]

‘This is not in anticipation of anything. It is out of an abundance of caution. We believe the public has an expectation for us to be prepared for anything.

Oh, of course not. This isn’t in anticipation of anything, other than perhaps riots, arson, looting, and general anarchy.

Police were roundly criticized for being unprepared when the rioting erupted in the spring. Davis took over command of the police after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired then-Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts in July.

As people were rioting and looting city pharmacies, beauty salons and retail shops on April 27, police were waiting for riot gear that was on order, according to emails the Baltimore Sun obtained earlier this year. The city ordered 1,000 pairs of ‘protective riot gloves,’ 1,000 pieces of chest, leg and arm protection items, 1,000 riot shields and 1,000 baton rings.

But none of that is in anticipation of anything. Oh no. Certainly not! A few days earlier–12-09-15–the Mayor and police commissioner spoke about the nothing they’re not anticipating: 

Blake Fires Batts

Baltimore’s mayor and police commissioner, concerned about the possibility of a return to the unrest of April, urged residents Wednesday to react ‘respectfully’ when a verdict is announced in the trial of Officer William G. Porter. [skip]

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake held a news conference at police headquarters Wednesday to call for calm, whether Porter is convicted or acquitted.

‘We need everyone in our city to respect the judicial process,’ Rawlings-Blake said.

City and state officials are hoping to avoid a repeat of April’s unrest, when Baltimore erupted in rioting, looting and arson, leading Rawlings-Blake to impose a curfew and Gov. Larry Hogan to send in the Maryland National Guard.

A spokesman for Hogan said the state’s homeland security director has been in regular contact with the federal Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office to discuss and prepare for the potential of further unrest.

Spokesman Doug Mayer said the governor’s office also speaks daily with the Maryland State Police and the National Guard — and those agencies speak daily with the Baltimore Police Department.

Hmm. That sounds suspiciously like they’re actually anticipating something. Perhaps “a repeat of April’s unrest, when Baltimore erupted in rioting, looting and arson”? Perhaps the Governor can clear this up:

LarryHogan

When Hogan visited Baltimore last week, he said the city and state were prepared.

‘Everyone’s concerned about the potential, but look: We have some great community leaders here who are trying to keep the peace and keep things from getting out of control,’ he said.

Hogan said coordination and communication on public safety have improved since April.

‘The bottom line is we’re hoping for the best but we’re prepared for whatever might happen,’ he said.

I feel better already. This is cute:

A Maryland National Guard spokesman said staff are monitoring conditions.

‘The trials are definitely something that we’re keeping a very close eye on,’ said Col. Charles S. Kohler. ‘We feel there could be the potential for people not to be satisfied with the verdict.

Wait a minute! I thought police actions weren’t in anticipation of anything? And Col. Kohler thinks people might not be satisfied with the verdict? No wonder they promoted him to Colonel.  The end of the article notes:

Leave for city police officers has not been canceled, a spokesman said, as it was in April and during some of the pretrial hearings this fall.

I know this article was printed three days before the article at the top of this post, but doesn’t The Baltimore Star read it’s own material?

Let us now turn from the fair and balanced news pages of The Star to the editorial page, where Tricia Bishop asks us to:

Put yourself in William Porter’s shoes.

You’re a rookie cop, with three years on the job, and you know Freddie Gray as a small-time drug dealer. You’ve seen him get arrested before; once he tried to kick out the window of a police vehicle. On this day, he’s arrested by other officers and loaded into the back of a police van, protesting — perhaps rightly — all the while. He proceeds to throw an epic fit, rocking the van. Several stops later, you check on him, and he indicates he needs medical attention. You don’t see any obvious injury, you know his history, and you know that no one wants to go to jail. You also know that a hospital trip will mean hours of sitting around instead of policing and that the department is perpetually short staffed. Add to that the likelihood that Central Booking won’t take him if he’s complaining of injury.

What would you do?

This is reasonable thus far. Let’s continue:

Police Department general orders aren’t clear. They say officers shall obtain medical treatment ‘when necessary or requested,’ but encourage them to use their judgment to determine whether an ambulance should be called or the detainee can be transported in the department van.  Officer Porter’s judgment got him charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment, according to testimony this week in his criminal trial, the first of six to be held against Baltimore officers in connection with Gray’s death this spring.

Bishop is inadvertently rational. The BPD order is indeed clear, because it recognizes that the BPD can’t issue absolutes. Circumstances require different responses, and officers always have to use their discretion and common sense. She sees conflict where none should exist. Without question, officers are always accountable for the exercise of their discretion, but cannot be stripped of it, and they can’t be held to unrealistic standards. Their superiors can’t demand that everything they do be absolutely perfect, only that it be reasonable under the circumstances.

Assistant State Medical Examiner Carol Allan told jurors that she would not have ruled Gray’s death from a spinal injury sustained in the back of a police transport van a ‘homicide’ if Officer Porter had called for a medic as soon as Gray asked for one. Officer Porter said he assumed Gray was faking, though he also acknowledged it didn’t much matter because Central Booking wouldn’t accept Gray either way; he told the van driver that a hospital trip was likely in Gray’s future regardless. Then another call for assistance came in, and the officers — one driving the only police transport van on the street that day — answered.

Two stops later, Gray was unconscious, and his fate — along with that of the city and six officers — was set.

This is a factual recitation, which reveals, as I’ve noted in past articles, that Dr. Allan has no idea what she’s talking about. Not only is she wrong about when Gray was injured, but doesn’t realize that his injury, which came much later than she imagines, was fatal. Once the injury occurred, nothing Porter did would have made the slightest difference. Even if the van headed for the hospital the second Gray so much as suggested a medical issue, it is entirely possible he would have done the same thing that caused him to fall and essentially kill himself later.

There’s a term for what ails those who suddenly come down with a mysterious illness during arrest: “jail-itis.” It’s a sort of allergy to incarceration. Those who catch it do anything they can to avoid a trip to Central Booking, even if they know it’s not likely to work. Law enforcement officials say it’s more common than you think, and they know it exists because they can often talk an arrestee out of it by explaining that a hospital trip would only prolong the process, waste time and limited resources, and annoy everyone involved. The BPD general orders even concede that “hospital details may become tedious” (page 6 of policy 1114).

Maybe if Officer Porter had talked to Gray a little longer that day, he might have realized Gray — who was not seat belted in as department policy requires — was really hurt. (Or maybe not; his defense team doesn’t believe the medical examiner’s assessment that Gray was injured between stop Nos. 2 and 4, when Officer Porter talked to him.) He at least would have had more time to assess the situation and show, even if he didn’t care about Gray, that he took seriously his responsibility to ‘ensure the safety of the detainee is maintained,’ per written department policy.

Notice that Bishop’s tone has now changed. She is now assuming that Porter did not talk to Gray and that he didn’t take his responsibilities seriously. She is clearly telling readers that Porter is guilty of violating BPD policies and the result was Gray’s death. Her mention of what the Defense believes is not sufficient to deflect the intent of this paragraph.

In fact, Porter did speak to Gray. He did try to get him to explain what was wrong, but Gray wouldn’t respond. And we know that Gray wasn’t injured then.

Instead, he followed the unwritten policy, which is to wing it, pushing off the inconvenience of a hospital trip that’s nevertheless inevitable. Whether the jury will consider that a crime — and, in particular, the exact crimes for which he was charged — remains to be seen. Either way, what he did appears to be a standard practice.

Again, notice the inflammatory accusation. Porter winged it. She admits later that what Porter did is standard practice, but she suggests he followed standard BPD practice merely to avoid being inconvenienced. She suggests Porter knew a trip to the hospital was inevitable, but was so negligent he purposely killed Gray.

In all of my police days, I cannot recall a single arrestee ever being seatbelted. It was simply too dangerous, and officers adjusted their driving accordingly when transporting prisoners. I cannot recall a single arrestee ever being injured as a result of not wearing a seat belt. Notice what Bishop cleverly and deceptively does with the next paragraph:

A Sun investigation this spring showed that Central Booking turned away nearly 2,600 arrestees between June 2012 and April of this year because of a wide variety of medical problems, including fractured bones and facial trauma. Maybe the officers who neglected to get help for those people should be thanking their lucky stars they’re not on criminal trial.

And what portion of those “nearly 2600 arrestees” were faking it, Ms. Bishop? What does “facial trauma” mean? A bruise? A small cut? She is right about one thing. Those officers should be thanking their lucky stars they weren’t prosecuted. something every officer will be considering to the detriment of public safety in the future. Again, Bishop misleads:

Or maybe we should blame hospitals, which don’t have a fast track for police detainees. Or Central Booking, which could have a physician on staff to assess detainees. Or budget makers, who fixed it so that a section of Baltimore had half the police staff on duty it was supposed to when Gray was arrested.

Hospitals deal with patients based on medical need, not because they’re brought in by the police. Do we really want them to do otherwise, particularly when the police and medical personnel know that most arrestees are faking? Do we really want to pay the higher insurance premiums and deductibles forcing hospitals to have extra personnel on duty to hand arrestees, or forcing law enforcement agencies to have on-staff physicians? Bishop apparently doesn’t realize that to keep one physician on duty at a booking facility 24 hours a day requires hiring some five physicians to cover for illness, days off, training, vacations, etc. Physicians don’t come cheap, particularly for agencies that can’t keep enough basic patrolmen on the job. Bishop seems to forget this when, a sentence later, she correctly notes that the BPD had only half the necessary number of officers on duty the day of Gray’s arrest.

‘So again, what would you do?

Here’s your choice: Risk wasting resources, which will leave some streets unpoliced; or gamble with two lives — your own and his. You decide.

Is Bishop leaving the public with an honest choice, particularly after she has misled them about the issues?  The choice she posits is personal convenience or human life.  I’ve no doubt that’s the choice the Prosecution wants the jury and the public to believe faced Officer William Porter, but the evidence presented at trial, when the Prosecution had all the time it needed, and all of the resources of the state at its disposal, reveals that as a false choice.

There have certainly been more inflammatory editorials written on a variety of issues, but considering that Baltimore is already, metaphorically, soaked in gasoline, The Baltimore Sun has just tossed another lit match into the air. Pity William Porter and his shoes, if Tricia Bishop is his judge: he can’t win no matter what he does.

If an appeal alleging that Judge Williams erred in refusing to grant a change of venue is filed, I suspect this editorial will be only one bit of evidence included.

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