Prosecutors rest their case against Officer Porter; judge rules trial will continue

Prosecution rested its case in Officer Porter trial. Defense motion to dismiss first Freddie Gray case denied.

Defense attorneys for Baltimore Police Officer William Porter will begin presenting their case to jurors on Wednesday after Judge Barry G. Williams turned back their request to dismiss the charges against him.

Porter's attorneys argued Tuesday that prosecutors had failed to show that his conduct during the arrest of Freddie Gray was "extraordinary or outrageous." Gray died in April after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody.

"There was no testimony that what Officer Porter did was any sort of deviation from what a reasonable officer would do," attorney Gary Proctor said.

But Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow said Porter showed a "callous indifference for life" when he failed to secure Gray with a seat belt in a police van and failed to summon medical aid when asked.

Defense attorneys have said other police officers routinely break such policies, but Schatzow said those officers should not be considered "reasonable."

"A reasonable police officer would do something" to help Gray, Schatzow said. Porter "did nothing when he could have saved a man's life."

Porter, 26, is the first of six officers to stand trial in Gray's death. He has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and other charges.

Prosecutors concluded their case Tuesday, and Williams said there was sufficient evidence presented for the proceedings to continue. In such requests for a judgment of acquittal, which are common but rarely granted, judges must look at the evidence in the "light most favorable" to the state.

Jurors were sent home for the day.

Earlier, prosecutors presented the last of 16 witnesses against Porter. They called just one police officer involved in the investigation of Gray's death, Detective Syreeta Teel. They did not call Officer Zachary Novak, who was involved in Gray's initial arrest and was with Porter when Gray was found unconscious in the back of the van.

Doug Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor who has been observing the proceedings, said it's too early to start drawing conclusions.

"We always have to keep in mind when the prosecution concludes, it's only halftime," he said.

Prosecutors have cast Porter as a careless officer. His defense attorneys have tried to show that he did care about Gray's well-being but did not realize the extent of his injuries, and was not primarily responsibly for his care.

Colbert expects Porter's attorneys to call their own experts to show there is no agreement about what a reasonable officer should have done under the circumstances. He said they will also likely bring other police officers to testify that Porter's actions "were reasonable as they understood the regulations and the rules," and character witnesses to testify that Porter is a good person who would not intentionally harm Gray.

Porter, who is expected to testify, could be the defense's "most important witness," Colbert said. Proctor said in opening statements that Porter grew up in West Baltimore and joined the Police Department not to "swing a big stick" but to help people.

Jurors have already heard from Porter. Last week, they were shown a taped statement that he gave to investigators five days after Gray was injured and before his death.

Porter said he did not believe or see evidence that Gray was hurt. But he also said he told two other more experienced officers that he believed Gray would need to be taken to a hospital before he would be accepted at Central Booking.

Porter said arrestees often fake injuries to delay arrest or admission at the jail, and medics would routinely instruct police to drive an arrestee already in the back of a police van to the hospital themselves, rather than have medics visit the scene.

Proctor, Porter's attorney, said that EMTs who arrived on the scene initially believed Gray had suffered a drug overdose. He said Porter quickly called for medics when he realized the severity of Gray's condition.

"None of this rises to be a gross, wanton, deliberate indifference to Mr. Gray," Proctor said Tuesday.

Several prosecution witnesses — including training academy instructors and a top-ranking commander — testified that officers should always secure detainees with seat belts, and should quickly summon medical help when someone complains of a problem.

The last of those witnesses testified Tuesday morning. Michael Lyman, a professor of criminal justice at Columbia College in Missouri, said officers who transport a suspect have a "shared responsibility" to make sure that person is secured.

If the person complains of injuries, Lyman said, officers should immediately determine where the nearest hospital is and take the arrestee there.

Schatzow said Tuesday that Porter's actions were a "deviation from a policy designed specifically to ensure the safety of prisoners."

"A reasonable officer follows orders and directives," Schatzow said.

Also Tuesday, a crime scene technician, a crime lab serologist and a DNA expert each testified about their roles in collecting and analyzing Gray's blood found in the back of the transport wagon.

Cellphone video footage of Gray wailing and dragging his feet in apparent pain as police loaded him into the van sparked weeks of protest against police brutality.

But the state medical examiner's office found that Gray was not injured then. A medical examiner concluded he was injured while traveling unrestrained in the back of the van.

Expert witnesses testified that Gray died from a "high-energy" injury akin to the trauma that would be suffered diving into a shallow pool. The injury pinched and severed his spine, causing him to rapidly lose the ability to breathe.

Dr. Carol Allan, the medical examiner who performed Gray's autopsy, and medical expert Dr. Morris Marc Soriano, an Illinois neurosurgeon, both testified that Gray's life could have been saved had Porter called for a medic when Gray first told him he needed one.

David Gray, another University of Maryland law professor, said the testimony of Porter and his character witnesses could "establish that it was the farthest thing from his mind that Mr. Gray would get hurt" — a sentiment that could sway the jury.

"The defense will be out to establish that he is just not the kind of guy who would knowingly put somebody under his care in a situation where they could be hurt," Gray said.

Prosecutors, Gray said, will try to keep in the minds of jurors that Porter is in fact that kind of person, because he could have called for help or put Freddie Gray in a seat belt but didn't, Gray said.

"Those are the two versions of Officer Porter that the jurors have to decide between," he said.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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