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Experts Chip at Charges on Freddie Gray’s Death

BALTIMORE (CN) - A former commander of the Baltimore Police Department took the stand on behalf of the officer being tried for the death of Freddie Gray.

Timothy Longo, chief of police in Charlottesville, Va., helped defense attorneys on Thursday chip away at the prosecution's case against Officer William Porter.

The 26-year-old officer is accused of having contributed to Gray's fatal spinal cord injury by not buckling Gray into the police van taking him the station after his arrest on April 12.

Though witnesses for the state testified that Baltimore instructs officers to arrestees - having issued one such directive just thee days before Gray's arrest - Longo testified Thursday that "police officers make discretionary decisions every day."

"I don't think a policy would remove that discretionary judgment," Longo said.

Longo said officers have a responsibility to follow general orders, but they also have the discretion to not follow them when the safety of the officer is at risk.

During questioning from defense attorney Joseph Murtha, Longo explained that general orders are merely "guiding principles" and "are clearly administrative in purpose."

Longo admitted that he expected his officers to follow his general orders, but quickly added that "we don't prosecute officers for not following them."

Judge Barry Williams struck that addition from the record, sustaining the prosecution's objection to the question Longo was answering.

During cross-examination, Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow pressed Longo on why Porter had placed himself in the van with Gray to help him from the floor.

"Why did he not take the two seconds it takes to fasten a seatbelt?" the prosecutor asked.

Longo said he found Porter's actions "objectively reasonable under the circumstances he was presented with at the time."

"He had reason to believe that at some point in time there was some resistance," Longo said.

Circumstances can change quickly, and Gray's "level of danger could change in a split second," he said.

Douglas Colbert, a University of Maryland School of Law professor who has been following the trial, told reporters outside the trial that he found Longo's cross-examination particularly compelling.

"He was a strong witness ... that was able to establish what a reasonable officer is," Colbert said.

A day earlier, Porter testified that Gray had been rocking the wagon during the 45-minute ride to the station on April 12. Porter also said that Gray had tried to kick out the window of a patrol vehicle during a previous arrest.

Porter is the first of six officers to go on trial for 25-year-old Gray's death on April 19.

The officer who drove the van, Caesar Goodson, faces the most serious charge of depraved-heart murder.

It was at the fifth of six stops to the police station where superior officers agreed that Gray needed to go to the hospital, putting Porter on hospital detail with the man. Though Porter testified that Gray affirmed his need for a medic, the officer said he did not immediately summon one because Gray did not appear injured and did not articulate what was wrong.

Longo supported the defense's position that Porter acted reasonably in relaying information about Gray's need for medical attention to Goodson and to superior officers.

Porter's attorneys say the prosecution cannot prove involuntary manslaughter without showing that the officer's conduct deviated significantly from what an officer would reasonably have done.

Neurosurgeon Matthew Ammerman testified for the defense as well on Thursday, attempting to undercut the timeline of Gray's injury that the prosecution presented.

Though the medical examiner who ruled Gray's death a homicide told the jury that Gray suffered the fatal spinal cord injury between the second and fourth stops of the van ride, Ammerman told the court that Gray's fatal neck injury could not have happened before the police van's fourth stop.

Ammerman, whom the defense has paid $10,000 for his testimony and an additional $4,000 to $6,000 for the review of medical records, said Gray's injury was immediate and would have led to his paralysis in "milliseconds."

Another defense witness, forensic pathologist Vincent Di Maio, testified that he believes Gray's fatal injury happened later - between the van's fifth and sixth stops.

Di Maio also said that he believed Gray's death should have been deemed accidental. Assistant medical examiner Carol Allan meanwhile had cited the delay in getting Gray medical attention in ruling Gray's death a homicide

According to Porter's testimony, Gray was able to use his arms and legs and speak at stop four, which would mean Gray had not suffered his injury before that point. The fact is critical for Porter's defense because he did not interact with Gray again until officers opened the van doors at the Western District Police Station and found Gray unresponsive.

Matthew Wood, an officer with three years of experience, testified for the defense that he heard yelling inside the wagon during the first stop.

During cross-examination, Wood said he learned that prisoners needed to wear seat belts during training in the field. Nevertheless Wood claims that he never saw an officer use a seat belt in a wagon before the day of Gray's fatal injury.

Officer Mark Gladhill backed this testimony as well.

"I've never seen anyone seat-belted in a wagon," Gladhill said.

The officer regaled the court with a story about the time when he transported a woman to the hospital because she said she was pregnant. It turned out she wasn't. Prisoners sometimes fake injuries, he said.

"If I do not see any visible signs they needed a medic and there was no need ... I would proceed on," Gladhill testified.

Gladhill said he saw Gray on the fifth stop, before the van arrived at the station.

Gray was not resting his head against anything and was holding his head up, the officer testified.

Like Officer Zachary Novak, who testified on Wednesday, Gladhill and Wood testified with immunity from Janice Bledsoe, the deputy state's attorney of criminal justice, at a grand jury hearing.

During cross-examination of the officers, prosecutors established the fact the Porter had access to working computers to check his email where the general order could have been read and that officers had been trained to seat belt detainees during transport.

Rioting and arson plagued the western section of the city following Gray's funeral.

Porter has pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.

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