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Baltimore officer said Freddie Gray asked for help

Exclusive: Police officer statements shed light on Freddie Gray arrest, transport

As Freddie Gray was being transported in a police van through West Baltimore, at least one officer warned that Gray needed medical care but wondered, along with others, whether he was faking injuries or being uncooperative, according to investigators who reviewed the officers' statements during a departmental probe.

Those statements — which have never been publicly revealed — help to explain why a judge has ordered separate trials for six officers charged in the incident. Some of the statements provide differing accounts of events that day; defense attorneys have argued in court that such conflicts could create problems in a joint trial.

Officer William Porter told police investigators that after being summoned to check on Gray on the morning of April 12, he told the van's driver that the city booking facility would not process Gray because he was in medical distress.

"Help me. Help me up," Gray said.

Porter helped Gray up and asked, "Do you need a medic or something? Do you need to go to the hospital?"

When Gray responded affirmatively, Porter said he told the van's driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, Jr., that Central Booking wouldn't accept Gray. Porter also told investigators he wasn't sure if Gray was in distress, or trying to convince officers to take him to the hospital instead of jail.

That sequence of events was drawn from a police account of Porter's statement, provided as part of an initial police review of Gray's fatal injury in police custody; Goodson was the only officer charged in Gray's arrest and transport who did not provide a statement to investigators. The statements shed new light on the events of April 12 including prosecutors' allegations that officers failed to provide medical care to the 25-year-old.

The Baltimore Sun was granted exclusive access to the Police Department's investigation, in which detectives outlined the officers' statements and scrutinized Gray's arrest and transport — days before any charges were filed in the case or any court proceedings began.

Police did not show or provide The Sun with the actual statements given by the officers. Some of the officers' statements conflict, and the police summary might not reflect the full account of each officer.

Those statements to investigators have become a key issue in the case.

Prosecutors have asked that Porter go on trial first because they say he will be called as a witness to testify against two other officers. In a letter to Judge Barry Williams, Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow said Porter is "a necessary and material witness in the cases against" Goodson and Sgt. Alicia White.

In an earlier hearing, defense attorneys raised concerns that the statements could create problems in a joint trial pitting one defendant's right to confront his or her accuser against another's right not to testify. Partially redacted statements by some officers were submitted to the court, though under seal.

Attorneys for the officers who provided statements have argued in motions — unsuccessful to date — that the statements should be suppressed because they were not properly advised of their rights against self-incrimination or their rights under the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights. Some officers have argued that they made their statements under duress because they feared losing their jobs, or were led to believe they were providing statements as witnesses rather than suspects.

Prosecutors — who allege that officers violated department policy by failing to put Gray in a seatbelt and to provide medical care — have said that all of the statements were legally and properly obtained. Gray died April 19 from an injury sustained in police custody, according to prosecutors, and his death triggered massive protests that devolved into looting and rioting. As police investigators tried to determine how Gray sustained his fatal injury, prosecutors used the local sheriff's office to conduct a parallel probe.

Recently, the city agreed to pay $6.4 million to Gray's family to settle any civil claims; in that agreement, neither the city nor its officers acknowledged any wrongdoing.

Goodson faces the most serious charge: second-degree murder. Porter, White and Lt. Brian W. Rice are charged with manslaughter. Officers Edward M. Nero and Garrett E. Miller face lesser charges, including second-degree assault. All have pleaded not guilty; a scheduling hearing for their trials will be held on Tuesday.

Asked to comment on the officers' statements for this article, defense attorney Joseph Murtha issued a statement on behalf of all of the defense attorneys, while noting that Williams has told the prosecution and defense to refrain from discussing the case in public.

"We are at a disadvantage because we cannot comment on the inaccuracy or accuracy of the statements," it said. Because police gave The Sun access to the investigation, information that "contends to represent our clients' statements is being disclosed at a time and in a manner which is both unfair and unconstitutional. We look forward to the opportunity for a complete and thorough review of all of the evidence and information that will be presented at trial."

The Baltimore state's attorney's office declined to comment.

The officers' statements recounted the basic timeline of events, which began with Gray being arrested at the Gilmor Homes public housing complex and loaded into the van. In the days following Gray's death, a 30-member task force used those statements and other evidence to recreate the van's journey of approximately 45 minutes through West Baltimore, scrutinizing details of Gray's arrest and transport.

What follows is an account that investigators drew from the officers' statements and other evidence — an account that tracks the chronology laid out in court documents by prosecutors. The statements provide detail about actions of the officers involved in Gray's transport, where prosecutors say he suffered a spinal injury. Some officers charged in the case were mainly involved in Gray's arrest, and not the van ride.

Task force members said that after Gray was placed in the van it was driven away to avoid a crowd that was forming, drawn by Gray's vocal protests. The van stopped at Mount and Baker streets, about a block south of the arrest site.

Several arresting officers followed, and according to some of their statements, they could see Gray rocking the van, beating on the doors and yelling. The officers told Gray to move away from the doors, and when he didn't, they opened them. Rice and another officer grabbed Gray and pulled him to the ground, face down. Gray kicked and squirmed as officers put flex cuffs and leg irons on him.

Officers put him back into the wagon, where he was left cuffed and shackled, face down on the floor. The van drove away.

Soon after that stop, Goodson asked dispatch to send an officer to check on Gray. Porter met the van near the intersection of Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street, peeked inside and saw Gray face down. Police say that according to Porter, that led to his exchange with Gray and his comment to Goodson about Central Booking.

Though Gray indicated he wanted medical help, Porter told investigators in his statement that he wasn't sure the detainee was in distress. "Everybody plays the 'I need to go to hospital' thing when they get arrested," Porter said in his statement.

Soon, Gray seemed better, Porter told investigators. "He was calm," the officer said.

Moments later a call came across the police radio for "10-16" — an officer in distress.

Goodson climbed back into the van and drove to a location near the intersection of West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, more than a mile away.

There, Goodson picked up another detainee, Donta Allen, whom officers had arrested. White — who had been called to the area to investigate citizen complaints about Gray's arrest — arrived and walked to the rear of the van. Porter, Rice and other officers also were there.

The police account also noted some of the conflicts in the officers' statements.

According to White's statement, she could not see Gray's face because his head was turned away from the van's door. She asked Gray, "Sir, what's going on?" He didn't say anything, White told investigators, adding that she assumed he was being uncooperative.

In her statement, White recalled Porter saying that Gray's medical problem was "jail-itis" — a reference to not wanting to be confined. She said none of the officers informed her that Gray had asked for a medic.

Porter told investigators that White asked Gray if he needed a medic or wanted to go to the hospital. Gray did not respond to that question. He simply said, "Yeah," when she called his name, according to Porter.

Porter told investigators that White directed officers to get medical care for Gray, after Porter told her that Gray appeared to be in distress. Porter said White told him to follow the van to the Western District police station, drop off Allen and follow the van with Gray to a hospital.

Police said Allen told officers, who were trying to determine how Gray was injured, that the van didn't drive recklessly or make any fast turns while he was in it.

According to the police investigators' account, at the district station, Porter, Goodson and Officer Zachary Novak opened Gray's side of the wagon. Gray was on his knees facing the van's cabin, with his head leaning against a wall. It looked like he wasn't breathing.

They called his name, but he did not answer.

An ambulance was summoned. Porter said, "He's not looking too good," according to his statement. Gray was unresponsive when he was taken out of the van and driven to a hospital.

Police officials and charging documents have outlined a chronology of events on the day Gray was taken into custody.

In the days following Gray's death, police said that after Gray was put in the back of the van, he began acting "irate," necessitating the leg shackles. At the stop at Mount and Baker streets, charging documents state "Once again, Mr. Gray was not secured by a seatbelt in the wagon, contrary to a [Baltimore Police Department] general order."

At the stop at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street, charging documents state that Gray "requested 'help' and indicated that he could not breathe." He also indicated "at least twice" that he needed a medic, but Porter and Goodson did not "render or request medical assistance," according to the documents.

Later, when the van stopped near the intersection of West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, White, Porter and Goodson "observed Mr. Gray unresponsive on the floor of the wagon," charging documents state.

White "spoke to the back of Mr. Gray's head. When he did not respond, she did nothing further despite the fact that she was advised that he needed a medic. She made no effort to look, assess or determine his condition," according to the charging documents.

Charging documents state that Gray "was no longer breathing at all" by the time officers tried to remove him from the van at the Western District station. "A medic was finally called to the scene, where upon arrival, the medic determined that Mr. Gray was now in cardiac arrest and was critically and severely injured," according to the documents.

Gray was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he died a week later.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

krector@baltsun.com

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