Like Freddie Gray, Baltimore police officer William Porter is a 25-year-old who grew up in the city. But while Gray's life in Sandtown-Winchester on the west side was marked by a number of arrests, Porter was a straight-arrow east-sider who became a cop and who still lives with his parents near Loyola University Maryland.
On April 12, however, the two men's paths crossed at Dolphin Street and Druid Hill Avenue in Gray's part of town. That's where Porter met the police van carrying Gray and helped the driver check on his passenger. Now Porter is among the six officers facing charges in Gray's death.
"This is unbelievable," said Regina Bennett, who lives two doors down from Porter and has known him since he was about 10. "He is a good, humble kid. I have never seen him in trouble."
Court records show that Porter has no criminal record. He has worked for the Baltimore Police Department since 2012 and was earning a yearly salary of $44,104 — until he and the other officers were placed on unpaid leave Friday.
Local police union President Gene Ryan defended Porter and the other officers, saying, "None of the officers involved are responsible for the death of Mr. Gray."
"Each of the officers involved is sincerely saddened by Mr. Gray's passing," Ryan said in a statement released by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. "They are all committed police officers who have dedicated their careers to the Baltimore City Police Department."
Porter and his lawyer could not be reached for comment.
On Porter's short block of two-story brick rowhomes set between Cold Spring Avenue and Guilford Elementary and Middle School off York Road, several neighbors praised Porter and expressed sadness over his involvement in Gray's arrest and death.
No one answered the door at his home, where neighbors say he lives with his parents.
"He's my nephew and he isn't guilty," Sylvia Porter, the officer's aunt, said in a phone interview. "This is a process that he has to go through."
Gwendolyn Madden lived across the street from William Porter for 15 years, but recently moved around the corner. She was on the block Friday helping a friend move.
"I know him pretty well from when he was a little kid coming on up," Madden said. "I remember when he first started with the police force, when he was in his little brown uniform. I was proud of him because he was doing good."
Porter must have gotten "caught in the wrong place at the wrong time," she added.
"He loved the job but he got caught up with the wrong officers," Madden said. "They knew what they were doing and he just got caught up. He's too young. He's learning as he goes. But this is going to be a very learnable experience for him because the first mistake is the worst mistake."
In the neighborhood, Porter was "the quiet type," she said, adding that he liked to walk his pit bull and sit on the porch with his girlfriend. But mostly he came and went from work.
Bennett was shocked to learn that Porter had been charged in Gray's arrest.
"Bill's boy? My heart is breaking," said Bennett, a state government employee.
Bennett added that Porter and his brother were raised as "little gentlemen" who always helped carry groceries into her house if they saw her returning from the store.
"They would never see a female outside in need of assistance and not offer it," she said. "You just don't find that anymore."
According to Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Gray twice asked Porter and the van's driver for medical assistance and complained that he was having trouble breathing. Yet Porter did not call for a medic. He helped Gray up off the floor of the van and placed him back on a bench without strapping him into a seat belt — a violation of department policy.
"That doesn't sound like him," Bennet said. "The whole neighborhood knows him and they will all say the same thing."
Officer William G. Porter
Charge: Involuntary manslaughter (up to 10 years)
Charge: Second-degree assault (up to 10 years)
Charge: Misconduct in office (no term listed)