Defense renews case in Baltimore policeman’s trial over man’s death

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A defiant Officer William Porter took the stand in his trial in Freddie Gray’s death.

Officer William Porter is the first of six Baltimore police officers who stand accused of playing a role in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after injuries sustained in the back of a police van while he was handcuffed and shackled.Police continue to say they have no problem with protests or demonstrations and they won’t monitor or follow them as long as they remain lawful, but violence and destruction will not be tolerated. Joined by community leaders Wednesday, the city cites new training and new state of the art riot equipment that has police prepared for whatever unfolds. “We view our role as a police department as one that keeps the peace during protests,” said Commissioner Kevin Davis, Baltimore City Police Department. Schatzow, the Baltimore Sun reports, focused on contradictions between Porter’s testimony and the statement he gave investigators in the immediate aftermath of Gray’s death.

Porter said he suggested to the van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, that Goodson take Gray to the hospital because he knew a prisoner claiming injury would be turned away from jail. With the first trial moving quicker than most expected, one group of protesters says they’re sending out an emergency email, putting demonstrators on standby for the verdict. “What we had during the unrest was nothing about justice. Porter’s testimony came on the first day of his defense team’s presentation, which also included testimony from a well-known forensic expert who contradicted the findings of the state medical examiner’s autopsy, and another police officer who took part in Gray’s arrest and was granted immunity by the state. It’s the policy of the Baltimore Police Department to seatbelt those in custody, but in his opening statement defense attorney Gary Proctor suggested few do.

In a key exchange, Porter disputed the prosecution’s claim that he told a police investigator in April that Gray told him he couldn’t breathe at the fourth stop of the van. In more than four hours on the witness stand, Porter calmly described himself as a “fair” officer who had regular encounters with Gray, a man he said feigned injury to avoid arrest. He told jurors Porter was “just like every other officer.” Officers placed Freddie Gray face down in the police van, handcuffed and with his legs shackled.

Porter testified that he overheard someone — who he later learned was Gray — mentioning having trouble breathing, but that was at the first stop, when Gray asked for an inhaler. Porter’s testimony could shape whether jurors believe that he ignored Gray’s pleas for help or was a well-meaning officer simply caught up in a tragic accident. Porter, 26, has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment in connection with Gray’s death. In testy, tense cross-examination, prosecutors picked apart Officer Porter’s past statements to police, attacking his credibility, even insinuating he lied to protect other officers and lied about what he did. “Ultimately, the prosecution must prove that Officer Porter did not take the actions that a reasonable officer would have done under the circumstances,” said Doug Colbert, University of Maryland law professor. Prosecutors allege he “criminally neglected his duty” by failing to secure Gray with a seat belt in a police transport van on April 12 and not calling for medical assistance when Gray requested it.

The trial comes as police agencies across the nation grapple with how to convince the public that the legal system can provide justice when their own are accused of wrongdoing. His death was followed by widespread protests against police brutality, especially in predominantly African-American communities, and his funeral was followed by rioting.

There are a number of previous instances in Baltimore of people dying or becoming paralyzed after riding in Baltimore Police vans without being seatbelted. The department requires detainees to be buckled up and the policy was updated just days before Gray’s arrest, leaving no ambiguity about whether a prisoner should be belted in. The state’s medical examiner and an expert neurosurgeon testified that by that point, Gray’s spinal injury would mean he was struggling for air, finding it difficult to talk.

Porter said Gray was unresponsive “with mucus around his nose and mouth.” He called Gray’s name — which elicited responses at previous stops — but this time Gray was silent. Wearing a gray suit and a navy blue tie, Porter appeared exasperated at times but did not seem to get angry during his cross-examination by Baltimore Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow.

The prosecutor tried to put Porter on the defensive by raising inconsistencies between the interview he gave to investigators and Wednesday’s testimony. If convicted on all of the charges, the maximum penalty he faces is about 25 years. “He never made a complaint of pain or an injury,” Porter said. “In order to call for an ambo I need age, sex, location and complaint of injury. Porter testified about growing up in West Baltimore and becoming familiar with law enforcement at an early age at police athletic camps for children, which he attended in part because they were free.

But Porter testified Wednesday that the investigator was mistaken, and that he only heard Gray say that when he was arrested, not when he was in the van. Novak told the jury that by April 12, the day Gray was hurt, he hadn’t seen an updated seat belt policy that had been emailed to all department employees, nor had it been read aloud at roll call. Three times during his testimony, Porter got out of the witness box to demonstrate on his attorney the various positions that he found Gray during the wagon stops. Vincent Di Maio, a forensic pathologist and former chief medical examiner in San Antonio, said Gray’s injury was “so violent, it’s so high-energy” that it would have immediately caused Gray to lose control of his body and his diaphragm, which is critical for breathing and speaking. “This has all the appearances of a single catastrophic injury,” he said, and one that would have “cut off the head from the body” in a neurological sense almost immediately. Allan and a neurosurgeon the prosecution brought in as a witness both dismissed the defense’s suggestion that Gray could have injured himself, saying the force of the impact was too strong.

In their cross-examination, the prosecution said Di Maio cherry-picked which parts of Porter’s recorded statement he believed, and which parts he ruled out. Novak was involved in Gray’s initial arrest and also called a medic to the Western District police station after Gray was discovered there unconscious. Instead, he only recalls hooking his arms under Gray’s to lift him out, he said. “Freddie Gray and I weren’t friends, but we had mutual respect for one another,” he said.

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