Freddie Gray case: Defense rests in 1st officer’s trial

13 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

For Porter jury, a briar patch of questions and issues.

.cms-textAlign-left{text-align:left;}.cms-textAlign-center{text-align:center;}.cms-textAlign-right{text-align:right;}.cms-custom-quote{border-left: 1px solid #eee; margin-left: 15px; padding-left: 15px; font-style: italic; font-size: 17px; line-height: 28px; color: #666;} BALTIMORE (AP) — The latest on the trial of a Baltimore police officer who is charged with manslaughter in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who was injured in the back of a police transport van (all times local). Prosecutors face a difficult job proving that Porter’s alleged failure to look after Freddie Gray in police custody was a criminal violation, as the standards for winning such a case are higher than in civil court, where similar cases have landed.

So while legal experts said it’s clear that police officers have a legal obligation to their prisoners, exactly what breaches of that responsibility amount to a crime remains a difficult question to answer. 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.

Porter, who is black, faces manslaughter and other charges over Gray’s death, which triggered rioting in the largely black city and intensified a U.S. debate on police brutality. David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh professor who studies policing, said American criminal laws are usually of the “thou shalt not” variety, rather than “thou shalt.” Porter is the first of six officers to go on trial in Gray’s arrest in April and death a week later. Gray’s life.” I can hear the defense, too: “Officer Porter’s actions on the day of Gray’s arrest were perfectly reasonable, and you cannot hold him responsible for an accident that others could have prevented. Prosecutors say Porter is partially responsible for not buckling Gray into a seat belt at the van’s fourth stop and for failing to call a medic immediately after Gray indicated he needed aid. As jury selection began in Porter’s trial, protesters were told that the sheriff’s office had taken out permits for the sidewalk outside the courthouse, so they had to move across the street, said Sharon Black, spokeswoman for the People’s Power Assembly.

Recent high profile cases involving police — the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; Eric Garner in New York; and Tamir Rice in Cleveland — have revolved around whether officers made the right decision to use force. David Rocah, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, called the permit “ridiculous.” Such permits, he said, are “meant to protect demonstrators’ rights, not the rights of the government, which has no First Amendment rights.” “If they want to regulate the conduct of demonstrators in line with the First Amendment, then they can do that,” he said. “But they can’t get permits for nonexistent events.” Gray have been able to sit erect on the bench at stop four?” defense lawyer Joseph Murtha asked Ammerman in Baltimore City Circuit Court. “No,” said Ammerman, a Washington neurosurgeon. Porter’s lawyers have said in court that they cannot find any other case in the country in which a police officer was criminally charged for not seat-belting a prisoner.

But with no eye witnesses and no unequivocal evidence as to exactly how or when Gray was injured, negligence could be difficult to prove, legal experts say. “Usually, criminal law has to do with intentionally doing something — stealing, assaulting,” said Baltimore attorney David Irwin, who recently represented an Episcopal Church bishop in Maryland. 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. Porter was present during five of the six stops the police van made during the 45-minute ride between Gilmor Homes, where Gray was arrested when he ran from officers, and the Western District station house, where Gray arrived unresponsive. Porter told the jury that the wagon is “pretty tight” and said that of his 200 arrests involving the transport van, he has never belted in a prisoner. Another defense witness, Timothy Longo, the police chief in Charlottesville, Virginia, was asked by Murtha which officer was responsible when transporting a detainee.

He turned to the Police Athletic League when he was a boy. (The Baltimore Police Department ran the city’s recreation centers at the time.) Porter got to know police officers at his local PAL center. Porter, who testified on his own behalf, told jurors that Gray wasn’t visibly hurt and didn’t exhibit any signs of distress when the officer offered him aid.

Under one, the jury could convict Porter if they find beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew his failure to act posed a “substantial and unjustified risk of death or severe bodily harm,” the professor said. 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. At 26, he showed tempered defiance when challenged by prosecutor Michael Schatzow, a skilled trial attorney, and Porter’s account seemed sincere: If he had known Gray was in distress — that he could not breathe — he would have immediately called for a medic. Porter told jurors the experience was “a very traumatic thing for me.” Porter faces manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges.

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. The rule about seat belts: This is one of the sharpest thorns in the Porter briar patch: the rule about using seat belts in the transportation of adults in custody, and whether cops are expected to follow it. Porter’s lawyers argued that police rarely seat-belted prisoners and that the Police Department rule — updated just weeks before Gray died — was not well-known. Porter testified in his defense that he didn’t think Gray was badly hurt. “They’re also weighing Officer Porter’s credibility,” he said. “A lot of what the jury will be looking at, based on everything we’ve seen and heard, is, does he seem like the kind of guy that would have callously decided to risk Mr.

That wasn’t necessarily the case before Porter and the five other officers were charged, David Gray said. “No officer thought of those decisions as potentially exposing them to criminal liability.” In the past, allegations of injuries suffered during Baltimore police van rides have led to civil lawsuits. Harris said the standard of proof needed to find civil negligence is lower than in criminal cases, as is the degree of negligence required to hold someone responsible.

Porter testified that Gray was alert, appeared uninjured and could use his legs and support his own weight — proof that he hadn’t yet suffered the spinal cord injury that killed him. In some higher-profile cases, the family of Dondi Johnson Sr. won a $7.4 million verdict against police officers after a 2005 van ride left him a paraplegic. If I’m on the Porter jury, I try to imagine what Gray’s experience might have been as the van moved through West Baltimore on April 12 — face-down on the steel floor, hands cuffed behind his back, his legs later shackled. The officers who transported Johnson were never criminally charged, and in fact, two of the three remain on the force despite the lawsuit’s finding of liability due to negligence. Still, she said the state’s case is a difficult one to prove, “If you don’t know when the injury occurred, how can you possibly tie his inaction to Freddie Gray’s harm?

Philip Stinson, a professor at Bowling Green State University who maintains a database of police misconduct cases, found just two incidents among thousands he has logged between 2005 and 2011 in which police were charged with negligent homicide in a death that didn’t involve a gun or an automobile crash. (More recent records were unavailable.) Michael Serota, an attorney who works on criminal code reform, studied cases in which defendants were accused of involuntary manslaughter and depraved-heart murder, the charge faced by Officer Caesar R. Serota said unclear laws are problematic for a number of reasons, including that they make the court’s work more difficult, complicate the jury’s job of determining what’s illegal, and diminish the public’s understanding of the final verdict. But even in cases that have some parallels to those against the six officers charged in Gray’s death, appellate courts have come to very different conclusions. In 1959, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s top court, overturned the conviction of two parents whose religious beliefs meant they didn’t get medical treatment for a sick child. And, perhaps the biggest question: Are we going to set a new standard for police conduct—- declare zero-tolerance for this kind of negligence — by making an example out of a young officer at this time in this place?

The state’s attorney’s office alleged that Pagotto had been criminally negligent for closing on a suspect with his gun drawn, attempting to pull the suspect from a car with one hand while improperly holding his gun.

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