Though the two were not friendly, Officer William Porter described his relationship with Freddie Gray as one of “mutual respect” during his testimony Wednesday about his actions on April 12 when Gray was injured in police custody.
Porter spoke calmly as jurors looked on in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Wednesday, explaining his training and a typical shift before he describing what happened on the day of the incident, but was at times combative with Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow on cross-examination.
“I think he came across as very credible and humble,” said Baltimore defense attorney Warren S. Alperstein, who observed Porter’s testimony and cross examination. “He was certainly affected by Freddie Gray’s death, as he had a relationship with Freddie Gray.”
Porter described Gray as a guy he saw around the Western District while on patrol.
“It was clear that he didn’t dislike Freddie Gray,” said Alperstein, of Alperstein & Diener P.A.
Prosecutors allege Porter was present at several stops made by the police van which carried Gray to the Western District station and ignored Gray’s requests for medical attention. They also claim Porter also failed to secure Gray with a seatbelt after checking on him at one of the stops.
Gray sustained a severe spinal injury which rendered him paralyzed and unable to breathe on his own. He died at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center April 20.
When Schatzow suggested Wedneday that Porter did not protect Gray’s life during their interactions the day Gray was injured, Porter replied emphatically, “Untrue.”
“Freddie Gray wasn’t injured at stops four or five, it was that simple,” Porter said on re-direct at the prompting of defense attorney Gary E. Proctor. “Had he been injured, I would have called for a medic.”
‘Didn’t say much’
Porter testified he responded to the police van on carrying Gray during its fourth stop – Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street – after the driver, Officer Caesar Goodson requested assistance checking on Gray.
Gray was lying on his stomach with his head toward the front of the wagon and his hands and legs restrained. Gray asked for help, according to Porter, and Porter asked if Gray needed a medic or the hospital. Gray said he wanted to go to the hospital.
“He didn’t say much,” Porter said. “I didn’t think anything about it. It happens quite often when people are arrested, they don’t want to talk to the police.”
Gray appeared to be holding his head up and was able to talk, Porter said, and showed no outward signs of injury.
Assistant medical examiner Carol Allan testified Monday Gray sustained a neck injury between stops two and four. She also said if Gray’s had been taken to the hospital, she would not have ruled his death a homicide.
“The explanation appeared to be plausible,” Alperstein said of Porter’s version of events.
Det. Syreeta Teel, who conducted an April 17 interview of Porter about the incident (a video shown to jurors), had testified Porter told her in a phone conversation April 15 that Gray said he couldn’t breathe at the fourth stop.
But Porter, on the witness stand Wednesday, disagreed with Teel’s characterization. Gray was yelling at his initial arrest, when Porter was nearby, that he couldn’t breathe and needed an inhaler.
“She got that wrong,” Porter said.
Seat belt questions
Schatzow questioned why Porter didn’t tell investigators Gray said he couldn’t breathe at his arrest during the recorded interview, when he only said he heard Gray yelling. Porter explained he was not asked to elaborate.
Schatzow read additional portions of the transcript of the interview to Porter and pointed out potential inconsistencies where Porter did not provide the details to investigators he testified to in court Wednesday.
“I didn’t know I was a suspect in the case,” Porter said. “I didn’t know I had to defend myself.”
Porter also answered the key question about why he did not secure Gray with a seat belt when he helped him off the floor of the transport wagon and sat him on the bench.
“Even the most docile detainee presents a risk,” Porter said, explaining that it is common practice to avoid a situation where someone can grab an officer’s gun.
Porter said he was not a van driver and in his experience and training it was not common practice to secure arrestees with a seatbelt.
It would have been Goodson’s responsibility to secure Gray, Porter said.
The defense is scheduled to continue presenting its case Wednesday.