BALTIMORE – The defense rested Friday in the manslaughter trial of Baltimore police officer William Porter after a department captain testified Porter went beyond the call of duty in assisting the driver of the police van in which Freddie Gray’s neck was broken.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams sent the jury of seven women and five men home for the weekend after the defense rested early in the afternoon. Lawyers argued about jury instructions later Friday. The jury will hear the instructions and closing arguments Monday.
Gray was a 25-year-old black man arrested April 12 after he ran from police in a West Baltimore neighborhood. His death a week later set off protests and rioting in the city, and became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Porter, 26, who is also black, is the first of six officers to stand trial for Gray’s death. He is charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. He could face about 25 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
The trial began Nov. 30.
Porter’s lawyers called 12 witnesses over three days, ending with Porter’s mother, Helena. Like three other character witnesses, she described Porter as truthful, honest and peaceful, but all acknowledged they had never worked with him.
Earlier Friday, Capt. Justin Reynolds, testifying as an expert in police training and policies, said Porter did nothing wrong on the day Gray was hurt. Porter says he interacted with Gray at two of the van’s six stops after responding in his patrol car to calls for assistance. The van’s 45-minute trip ended with Gray unconscious at the Western District police station.
Porter told investigators that at the fourth stop, he helped the handcuffed and shackled prisoner move from the wagon floor to the bench and asked Gray if he needed medical help. After Gray said, “yes,” Porter contends he advised van driver Officer Caesar Goodson that Gray wanted to go to the hospital.
Porter says he told a supervisor, Sgt. Alicia White, the same thing at the van’s fifth stop.
Reynolds said those actions “go beyond what many officers would have done.”
“An officer expects, when they tell a supervisor something, that the supervisor is going to act upon it,” Reynolds said.
Prosecutors say Porter is partly responsible for Gray’s death because he didn’t call a medic immediately after Gray indicated he needed aid, and failed to buckle Gray in with a seat belt, a violation of department policy.
But Reynolds testified Porter’s only duty was to check on Gray, as Goodson requested, and that his job was done after he lifted Gray onto the bench.
Porter testified earlier this week that Gray showed no signs of injury or distress when he assisted him to the bench, and that’s why he didn’t call an ambulance to the scene. Prosecutors contend Gray was already gravely injured by then.
Because Gray was in Goodson’s custody, Goodson was primarily responsible for the prisoner’s safety and well-being, Reynolds said.
An expert witness for the prosecution testified earlier that Porter had a shared duty to take care of Gray.Reynolds said the department’s seat belt policies are guidelines, not binding directives.
“It’s a guideline you couple with good judgment and common sense,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds testified that officers often take prisoners to hospitals in police transport vans, rather than calling an ambulance, if the detainee isn’t having a medical emergency. He said at least 20 percent of people arrested complain of injuries, but that in 2014, less than 2 percent of prisoners were rejected for medical reasons at the Baltimore jail.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers offered conflicting views on how the judge should instruct jurors about deliberations. Defense attorneys don’t want jurors told they can convict Porter for things he didn’t do - such as failing to seat belt the prisoner or failing to call an ambulance.
Prosecutors want jurors instructed they need only reach a consensus on either omission to reach a unanimous verdict on the manslaughter and assault charges.
Williams said he’ll consider the arguments over the weekend.