Officer Denies Blame for Freddie Gray’s Death

     BALTIMORE (CN) – A 26-year-old police officer blamed for death of Freddie Gray said he did all he could to save the Baltimore man’s life, taking the stand Wednesday in his manslaughter trial.
     “We weren’t friends, but we had a mutual respect,” officer William Porter testified. “I had respect for Mr. Gray, and he knew I had a job to do and he respected that.”
     Porter said he had built a rapport with Gray during his 2 1/2 years on the force, patrolling in the Gilmore Home area in the Western District of Baltimore, where poverty, drug and violent crimes are rampant.
     In the preceding days of the trial, prosecutors called on medical witnesses who blamed Gray’s death from a spinal cord injury on the police officers’ failure to buckle Gray into the police van after his arrest, and their failure to immediately get help for 25-year-old Gray when he showed signs of distress.
     On Tuesday, a law enforcement expert spoke about police protocol when detainees experience a medical emergency.
     Porter spent nearly five hours on the stand Wednesday, calling it standard procedure at the Baltimore City Police Department not to buckle suspects into transport vans.
     The testimony runs counter to general orders the department had emailed just three day’s before Gray’s April 12 arrest, directing officers to belt arrestees.
     Questioning by Porter’s attorney repeatedly returned to the officer’s position that arresting officers and transport van drivers bear the primary responsibility for the safety of an arrestee.
     Officer Caesar Goodson, who is charged with depraved heart murder, drove the van that transported Gray.
     At least five times during the questioning, Porter told the jury that “it’s the responsibility of the wagon driver to get the detainee from point A to point B.”
     After Gray’s arrest, police made six stops while hauling him in a police van to the Western District Police Station.
     The assistant medical examiner testified that Gray’s fatal injury occurred sometime between the second and fourth stop of a trip he spent in handcuffs and leg shackles.
     Face-down on the van’s floor, Gray had requested medical attention at the fourth stop, but his treatment began at the station after the nearly 45-minute trip. Gray became paralyzed and then brain-dead on April 19.
     Cross-examining Porter, prosecutors grilled the officer on inconsistencies between his testimony and his recorded interview with detectives just five days after Gray’s arrest.
     At a compelling moment during the testimony, Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow asked Porter that, at stops four and five, “you did not protect Freddie Gray’s life, did you?”
     “That is untrue,” Porter responded.
     Porter said he believed Gray was not seriously injured before they reached the police station, telling the jury that Gray had the use of his legs when Porter helped Gray from the floor of the van at the fourth stop.
     Though Porter testified that Gray did not appear seriously injured, it was agreed that Gray would be taken to a nearby hospital to be medically cleared before he was brought to Central Booking.
     Warren Brown, a veteran criminal attorney who has been watching Porter’s trial, told reporters outside the courthouse that the officer did well on the stand, projecting himself as a caring police officer that was connected to the community he patrolled.
     “Officer Porter has been very calm and is the type of individual the jury can relate to,” Brown said, after three hours of the officer’s testimony.
     Well-rehearsed, calm and collected, Porter described when officers opened the van at the Western District police station, and he saw Gray lying on the floor, unresponsive and with clear mucus around his mouth.
     When the officer testified that he had said, “Oh shit,” at the sight, Brown said Porter showed jurors that he was concerned for Gray.
     “Porter helped himself with the jury when he used that statement,” Brown said.
     Questioned as to why he did not follow through on his offer to Gray at the fourth stop of the van ride to get a medic or take Gray to a hospital, Porter said Gray had not expanded on why medical help was necessary.
     Testifying about Gray’s Sunday morning arrest, Porter began by saying the 911 call brought him to an area he knew intimately.
     Gray had already been subdued and was cuffed when Porter arrived, so the officer began working on crowd control. Porter said Gray was resisting arrest, but was not being violent with the officers.
     While helping with crowd control, Porter said he spoke with Brandon Ross, a friend of Gray’s who had recorded the arrest.
     Porter said Ross was extremely upset that officers beat Gray and used a stun gun on him, and that the witness asked Porter for a supervisor so he could report the assault on Gray.
     Porter said he told Ross he should call 911. When Ross told Porter about the video, Porter testified that he told Ross to go to the media with the video.
     Schatzow, the prosecutor, asked Porter if he told Ross to go to the media as a way to placate Ross because Porter wanted to just dismiss Ross.
     Several aspects of Porter’s testimony contradicts that of the medical experts who testified for the prosecution – Illinois neurosurgeon Morris Mark Soriano and Carol Allan, the assistant medical examiner who labeled Gray’s death a homicide.
     Soriano testified that the injury would have been catastrophic and that Gray would have been rendered paralyzed and unable to breathe or speak.
     Porter testified that officers put Gray on the floor of the van after his arrest. He said Gray shook the van so much at the second stop that another officer could not fill out paperwork on the van’s side. Officers opened the doors then and placed shackles on Gray, Porter said.
     At the third stop, Porter testified he helped Gray from the floor and placed him on the bench. Porter testified that Gray was able to use his legs and arms at that time, and that he was able to speak.
     During this part of the testimony, Porter’s attorneys demonstrated for jury the position of Gray and Porter as they would have been in the van.
     At cross-examination about the seating, Schatzow used a transcript of a recorded interview of Porter to point out that Porter had said he had just picked up Gray and said nothing about Gray assisting in the lifting and seating.
     Porter responded that he was just expounding on the previous information and that it was not contradicting what he had told the reporters. He said that he, a 220-pound man, could not have just lifted Gray, who weighed between 130 and 150 pounds, off the ground and place him on a seat in such a confined space without Gray’s help.
     Porter said Gray had been alert and much calmer at the forth and fifth stops because he had probably experienced an “adrenaline dump.”
     At stop five Porter confirmed with Gray that they would seek medical help and bring him to a local hospital. Porter said he had been told by Sgt. Alicia White to follow the van to the hospital after they had dropped off another detainee who had been arrested on a marijuana charge.
     It was at the Western District Station that Officer Zachary Novak, who also testified on Wednesday, that Gray was again on the floor and unresponsive. A medic was summoned and Porter assisted in stabilizing Gray as they waited.
     Porter said that wait felt like “an eternity.”
     Novak testified that at the time of the arrest he and Porter would have had to check emails on computers he described as “hand-me-downs from some public school when they are done with them.”
     Novak told the court that he had been sanctioned one time for not checking his email as required, but that he had since been issued a phone which gives Novak the ability to access his email.
     Novak testified that he seat-belted maybe 10 percent of the detainees he had placed in a van and that he always belted detainees in his patrol car. He also said that ultimately the safety of the detainee is the responsibility of the driver of the wagon.
     White, the sergeant, whom Porter spoke about is also charged with involuntary manslaughter. Novak is not accused of any wrongdoing with regard to Gray.

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