Porter: It wasn’t until last stop that Gray in obvious genuine distress, at which point medic was called
Today the defendant in the “Freddie Gray” trial, Police Officer William Porter, took the stand from about 11:00am to 3:30pm to testify on his own behalf. He testified both on direct examination by his defense attorneys and on cross-examination by prosecutor Schatzow. (The following recounting, and particularly any quotes, is largely based upon the periodic tweets sent out by journalist Justin Fenton from his live Twitter feed (@justin_fenton) and from his end-of-day Baltimore Sun post with colleague Kevin Rector. My independent remarks are in parenthesis.)
Direct examination of Porter was begun by defense counsel Murtha. He asked why Porter had not called for medical attention for Gray early on in the encounter, and Porter replied that he did not do so because Gray “was unable to give any reason for any kind of medical emergency,” and because he couldn’t see any visible signs of a need for medical attention.
Asked why he didn’t seatbelt Gray into the van, Porter replied that no one gets a seat belt. He went on to explain that he has participated in one manner or another in 150 arrests involving a police van, and has never seen any suspect belted in.
He also noted that the vans are very cramped, necessarily placing him in immediate proximity to the suspect with little freedom of movement, and of course he has a firearm on his side towards the suspect.
Porter described the Baltimore Police Department as poorly staffed, explaining that on the day of the incident they were supposed to have 17 officers but only had 10, and they were supposed to have three to four sergeants but only had one.
Porter testified that he heard Gray yelling during the arrest that he couldn’t breath & needed an inhaler. (It goes without saying, of course, that anyone “yelling” is in fact necessarily “breathing,” and its unclear where an inhaler was supposed to come from; did Gray have one on his person, were the police supposed to have their own on hand?)
Asked about the prosecution’s suggestion, supported by the testimony of state’s witness Detective Syreeta Teel, that Porter had previously stated that he’d heard someone mention that Gray was having difficulty at the fourth stop of the van, Porter replied “Absolutely not.”
The only time he heard someone mention Gray’s respiration difficulties, Porter testified from the stand, was at the first stop of the van, shortly after Gray’s had fled on foot in an effort to avoid arrest. (Thus there was a non-traumatic explanation for why Gray might be having difficulty breathing.)
At one point Murtha had Porter act out for the jury how Porter had observed Gray inside the van at the stop where Porter had helped Gray up from the floor to the bench. Murtha got on the floor on his stomach, his hands clasped behind him as if cuffed. Porter hooked his right arm under Murtha and lifted him.
Porter also testified that arrestees often feign injury and demand medical attention in the hopes of avoiding arrest or at least of going to the hospital rather than the police station, then give up on the effort once they realize the ruse isn’t being bought.
At a later stop, the stop at which additional arrestee Donta Allen is added to the van, Porter checks on Gray and asks if he still wants to go to the hospital.
At one of the later stops Porter observed Gray unresponsive int he back of the van, with mucus around his mouth. Porter says at this point he tried to stabilize Gray’s airway. (My apologies, folks, journalist Fenton simply isn’t clear on which stops were which, which is a shame because at one point of the testimony they apparently talked through each of the six stops.)
Porter testified that he held Gray until a medic arrived, which wait “felt like an eternity.”
Porter testified that his first thought was that Gray was experiencing a drug overdose (Gray was a known drug user and dealer in the community; during the state’s case one of the responding medic’s testified that they, too, first suspected Gray was experiencing an overdose, and injected him with medication intended to counteract opiates; opiates tend to suppress respiration.)
Porter: “It was a very traumatic day for me, also . . . just seeing him in the neighborhood every day.”
Defense counsel: “Are you sorry Freddie Gray is dead?” Porter: “Absolutely. Freddie Gray and I weren’t friends. But we had a mutual respect for each other and had built a rapport. … Any loss of life, I’m sorry to see that.”
Starting at about 2:00pm Porter was cross-examined by prosecutor Schatzow, in what was described by journalist Fenton as a “tense exchange” that would last for about 90 minutes.
Earlier in his testimony Porter had testified about a “no snitch” culture in the Baltimore criminal community, and Schatzow now tried to suggest the same existed in the Baltimore police community.
Schatzow: Is that a culture of the Baltimore Police Department?”
Porter: “Absolutely not. I’m actually offended you would say something like that.”
When apparently pressed by Schatzow about why Porter didn’t provide more detailed information when first interviewed, Porter replied that he did give the names of every officer there, but that he wasn’t sure of each officer’s specific actions at every moment and did not want to provide misinformation.
Schatzow continued to press Porter on why he seemed able to provide more detailed information later than he did at the time.
Porter: “I thought I was a witness not a suspect. … I didn’t know I needed to defend myself.”
At this point Schatzow apparently produced a training document signed by Porter at the academy, two years earlier, which read “we do not transport injured people, call medic.” (More relevant than a pro forma form, of course, is the actual practice of the Baltimore Police Department. It is also noteworthy that prosecutor Schatzow produced no similar form bearing Porter’s signature referencing the department’s newly adopted seatbelt policy.)
At that point Schatzow appears to have driven off into emotive land:
Schatzow: “You said engrained in you as a police officer was to protect life … But on April 12, 2015, you didn’t protect Freddie Gray’s life.”
The defense followed up immediately with re-direct of Porter, asking why Porter said it was untrue that he didn’t protect Freddie Gray’s life.
Porter: “It’s untrue because Freddie Gray wasn’t injured then. It’s just that simple. Had he been injured, I would have called for a medic.”
Porter also re-emphasized that he was “offended” by prosecution suggestions that cops routinely lied, especially given that it was so often that the prosecutors themselves relied upon police testimony in court.
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