Officer William Porter takes the stand in his own defense

Officer William Porter takes the stand in his own defense
Deputies eye the media and on-lookers who are standing in line for the trial of Officer William Porter. (J.M. Giordano/City Paper)

Officer William Porter took the stand today to testify in his own defense, just the second witness called as the defense began its argument on day eight of the trial.

Porter is accused of manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office for not having seat-belted Gray in the police van where prosecutors say he suffered a broken neck that led to his death.


Porter's charges are also based, prosecutors said, on his failure to secure medical assistance for Gray, who complained he couldn't breathe and needed help at various points during his arrest and transportation to Western District police headquarters.

Porter began his testimony by characterizing himself as an officer who had good relations with the community he policed, in and around Gilmor Homes in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.

That rapport with citizens included Gray and his friends, Porter said.

"I saw Freddie Gray on a daily routine. He was a regular fixture. If he wasn't dirty, he'd come over and talk to me," Porter said.

Porter also said, however, that he had been in attendance when Freddie Gray had previously been arrested, and said the young man was known for being troublesome to arresting officers. Porter described one previous arrest just two weeks prior to the incidents leading to Gray's death when Gray had attempted to kick out the windows of a police SUV.

Gray's behavior was similar on April 12, Porter said. He described being able to hear Gray yelling that he couldn't breathe and needed an asthma inhaler, as well as complaining about his legs, at the time he was initially arrested at the Gilmor Homes.

The van transporting Gray stopped a short while later not far from that initial scene, and Porter described a hostile crowd gathering as Gray was taken from the van to be shackled by the ankles. After being returned to the van, Gray was kicking the walls, causing the vehicle to rock from side to side Porter said.

Porter said he chose to work the crowd, using his relationships in the community to try to calm the situation. There he ran into a friend of Gray's, Brandon Ross, who complained about the arresting officers' treatment of Gray, which Ross said he'd captured on video. After Ross told him he wouldn't be satisfied with just showing the video to the police themselves, Porter said he told Ross to take the video to the media.

"I guess he did," Porter said.

Porter said his next encounter with Gray that day was at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street, where Officer Caesar Goodson asked Porter to help him check on Gray. It was unclear from Porter's testimony why Goodson had stopped the van or asked for Porter's assistance.

Porter said that on entering the van he found Gray face down. Gray asked Goodson to help him up on the bench, but was not injured, Porter said, and was able to move and speak normally. This account contradicts the contention of the city's medical examiner, who said earlier in the trial that Gray had been severely injured by the time of the stop on Druid Hill Avenue.

Porter said Gray did ask to be taken to the hospital, but related that many arrestees suffer from what police call "jailitis," feigned medical issues they hope will save them a trip to Central Booking.

Defense attorneys were at pains to paint a clear and specific picture of Gray's disposition at this and subsequent stops on the trip to the Western in order to bolster their claim that Gray's injuries were sustained in the last four minutes of the van ride.

To that end, the defense had called Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a well-known expert witness in forensic pathology, to be their first witness of the day. Di Maio previously testified at the trial of George Zimmerman, who was cleared of a homicide charge in the killing of Trayvon Martin, a seminal case in the Black Lives Matter movement into which the Gray case has also now been swept.


Di Maio attacked the conclusions of the medical examiner, saying that Gray could not have either moved or breathed, much less spoken, after sustaining the severe neck trauma that was revealed on scans taken at Shock Trauma and found on autopsy.

Gray would have been "like a floppy doll" after his neck was broken, Di Maio said.

Such an injury could only have taken place between the time Gray was last heard to speak and respond to police and his arrival at Western District headquarters, where all agree he was completely unresponsive, and not breathing.

"The nervous system was severed. You cannot move at all, not at all. You can't breathe, you cannot move a finger, you cannot wiggle a toe," Di Maio said, describing the effects of Gray's injury.

On cross-examination, Di Maio acknowledged that Gray would not have been injured during the van ride if he had been secured by a seat belt.

Prosecutors attacked conclusions Di Maio drew based on testimony concerning Gray's position in the van from stop to stop. Di Maio acknowledged that he had decided Porter himself was mistaken in his account of how Gray was lying in the van at its last stop, and relied instead on the account of another officer present.

Defense lawyers went so far as to stretch out on the floor of the courtroom to demonstrate how they say Gray was laid out in the van.

They also laid the groundwork for pinning responsibility for Gray's safety squarely on Goodson. Although Porter appeared careful to avoid stating it in so many words, his lawyers asked questions that made it clear that Porter's understanding is that the van driver is ultimately responsible for those he or she is transporting, and that Goodson never "transferred custody" of Gray to Porter.

Porter also testified that he had advised Goodson that Gray was requesting medical attention and wouldn't, as a result, be accepted at Central Booking. He also said that he conveyed this same message to his supervisor that day, Sgt. Alicia White, who assigned Porter to escort Gray to Bon Secours hospital, but only after the van had returned to headquarters first.

Porter was not in the van, but following behind in a squad car. Porter said he had been singled out to interact with Gray as the van made its way back to the Western that day because of his relationship with the young man. He described their interactions as more or less courteous and, on his side, professional.

Describing the scene when he went to take Gray out of the van at Western District headquarters, Porter said it was "traumatic" to find the broken body of someone he interacted with on an almost daily basis. He described holding Gray's neck in a "lifesaving position" while another officer attempted to revive him, and subsequently attending to Gray's personal effects after accompanying him to Shock Trauma.