Expert witnesses for defense question timing of injuries, say Porter acted properly

Expert witnesses for defense question timing of injuries, say Porter acted properly
A small group of protesters were assembled outside the courthouse for the trial of Officer William Porter this morning. (Brandon Weigel)

The defense for Officer William Porter, the first Baltimore Police officer on trial for the death of Freddie Gray, called two expert witnesses to the stand this morning to contest earlier testimony presented by the prosecution.

First on the stand was Dr. Matthew Ammerman, a Washington, D.C. neurosurgeon, who testified that Gray's injury could not have occurred between the second and fourth stops made by the transport van with Gray in the back. After detailing the severity of the injuries to Gray's neck, Ammerman testified that his review of the medical evidenced determined it was a "complete injury" that "immediately rendered him paralyzed, stopped him from breathing, and unfortunately ended his life."


Had the injury occurred at stop four, at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street, when Porter opened the van doors and asked Gray if he needed medical attention, Gray "could not say he's short of breath because he would not be able to speak," Ammerman testified.

It was also at stop four that Porter sat Gray up on a bench inside the van.

"Would Mr. Gray have been able to sit erect at stop four?" asked defense attorney Joseph Murtha.

"No," said Ammerman.

Ammerman also called into question a statement given by Donta Allen, a man who was apprehended at North and Pennsylvania avenues and put into the van with Gray, the fifth stop. Allen told officials Gray was having seizures in the back of the van, but Ammerman testified seizures were inconsistent with Gray's injuries.

In cross-examination, Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow, after posing questions about medical specifics, asked in plain terms: "Would agree that the injury was suffered while in the van in police custody?"

"That's correct," Ammerman said.

The defense then called Timothy Longo Sr., a law enforcement consultant and the active chief of police in Charlottesville, Virginia, who testified officers can use their discretion to make the decisions that sometimes go against general orders. This included Porter's decision not to belt in Gray at the fourth stop.

"I believe his actions were objectively reasonable under the circumstances he was presented with at the time," Longo testified, saying an officer entering a confined space with their service weapon could present a threat of danger.

Murtha went to great lengths to ask questions of Longo about who had custody of Gray throughout. Each time, Longo testified Gray was in the custody of the van's driver, Officer Caesar Goodson.

Longo also testified Porter acted reasonably in both informing Goodson and his superior, Sgt. Alicia White, that Gray had requested medical attention.

In cross-examination, Schatzow seemed a bit incredulous, asking how Porter could perceive Gray as a threat after he crawled into a van and helped place Gray on a bench.

"His level of danger could change instantaneously," Longo testified, saying prisoners can get out of handcuffs or kick officers with shackled legs.

Longo later insisted this was still the case, even though, as Schatzow raised, Porter himself had testified Gray was "calm, not combative, and docile."


The question then came up about General Order 1114, a new policy put in place weeks before Gray's arrest that instructed officers to seat-belt detainees and that medics must be called when requested.

Longo testified "everything the officer does presents the opportunity for discretion," and that sometimes they make decisions that go against general orders for their own safety. In earlier testimony, he characterized general orders as being more administrative.