Clears way to compel Porter’s testimony against the five other officers charged
In a single-page per curiam decision, the Maryland Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) ruled today that Baltimore Police Officer William Porter can be compelled to testify in the trials of Caesar Goodson and Alicia White, the two officers who like Porter were most closely involved in Gray’s transportation, according to reporting by CBS News and other sources. (That order is embedded at the bottom of this post.)
It was in the course of this transportation that Gray would suffer the traumatic neck injury that is believed to have ultimately taken his life.
In a second order the court reversed the trial court’s early decision that Porter could not be compelled to testify against the three officers most closely associated with Gray’s arrest (but not his transport): Officers Garrett Miller, Edward Nero, and Lt. Brian Rice.
The Court provided no rationale for the rulings, noting merely that the decision was made “For reasons to be stated in an opinion later to be filed …”
In total, six officers have been charged over the death from neck trauma of Freddie Gray. Gray’s injury was suffered as he was being transported in a police van following his arrest for illegal knife possession by Baltimore police officers Brian .
Shackled at the ankles and wrists because of non-compliance with his arrest, Gray was placed on the floor of the van rather than buckled into the van’s bench seat. At some point Gray raised himself off the floor of the van, then fell and struck his head in a “shallow dive” manner that resulted in his neck trauma.
In the aftermath of Gray’s death the city of Baltimore was wracked with rioting, violence, and property damage. In explicit response to “calls for justice,” Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby brought a variety of poorly supported criminal charges ranging from misconduct in officer to murder against six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and transport. The state’s theory of the case in support of the charges is that the officers should be held criminally liable for various claimed acts of omission rather than acts of commission.
Porter was the first officer to be tried, in his case on charges as serious as manslaughter, and the jury in his case was unable to come to a verdict of either guilt or acquittal. Prosecutors immediately announced that they would re-try Porter at a later date.
In the meantime, however, prosecutors still wished to use Porter as a material witness in the trials against the other five officers charged. Had Porter been either convicted or acquitted he could easily have been compelled to testify in those trials.
With his own re-trial pending, however (as well as prospective Federal prosecution on civil rights grounds), Porter argued that he ought not to be compelled to testify. He maintained this position even after being granted limited use immunity by state prosecutors, such that state prosecutors would not be able to use his compelled testimony against him when he is re-tried.
The trial court handling all six Freddie Gray related prosecutions ruled that Porter could be compelled to testify against Caesar Goodson and Alicia White, the two other officers who were most closely associated with Gray’s transport (but not his arrest), but not against the three officers who were most closely associated with Gray’s arrest (but not his transport).
Porter immediately appealed the decision to Maryland’s highest court, which issued a stay on Porter’s compelled testimony, delaying the start of the next trial, that of van driver Officer Caesar Goodson (who has received the most serious charge, murder).
Today’s order from that court vacated their stay on Porter’s compelled testimony in the Goodson and White trials, and reversed the trial court’s ruling that Porter could not be compelled to testify against Miller, Nero, and Rice. Thus, Porter can now be compelled to testify against all five of the officers remaining to be tried.
It is possible, of course, that Porter could nevertheless refuse to testify. In that event it would be anticipated that the trial court would hold Porter in contempt of court and have him imprisoned for a duration deemed appropriate by the court.
As promised, here’s the Maryland Court of Appeals order vacating their stay of the trial court’s order compelling Porter to testify, and remanding the case back to the trial court:
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