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Freddie Gray's mother sobs, friend takes stand in officer's trial

As the grainy video of police lifting Freddie Gray by his arms and ankles and putting him into the back of a police van played in court Thursday, his mother let out a sob and burst into tears.

Brandon Ross, who recorded the footage and was on the witness stand, stood up and wiped at his eyes to hold back tears.

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The 31-year-old from Sandtown-Winchester, the West Baltimore neighborhood where he grew up with Gray — "We were like brothers," he testified — turned his back to the court and walked into a rear corner to the side of the judge's bench.

The emotion Thursday in the trial of William G. Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers accused in Gray's arrest and death, matched the feeling in the video, in which Ross and others could be heard shouting at officers for the way they were treating Gray on that crisp morning last April.

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"Hey Porter, can we get a supervisor up here, please?" Ross could be heard yelling. "That's not cool!"

Judge Barry Williams called a recess as family members ushered Gray's mother, Gloria Darden, out of the courtroom. Prosecutor Janice Bledsoe went to Ross' side to lead him out as well.

Ross returned to the stand as witness testimony continued in Porter's trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment in Gray's death.

Porter, who has pleaded not guilty, is the first officer to go to trial. The five other officers have also maintained their innocence. Porter's trial is to resume Friday with more testimony from witnesses for the prosecution.

The trial of William G. Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, will continue Thursday.

Prosecutors began the proceedings Thursday morning by leading each of a series of witnesses through questions intended to establish that Porter "criminally neglected his duty" by failing to seat-belt Gray in the back of the van and not calling for medical assistance when Gray requested it.

Porter's attorneys, meanwhile, tried to elicit testimony to illustrate that Porter's actions were a result of a Police Department failure to make young officers aware of its policies and procedures — such as the requirement to secure detainees in police vans with a seat belt.

Porter's lawyers also sought to recast the events in the two videos of Gray's arrest introduced by prosecutors, which they argued showed Porter either in a peripheral role or positively engaged with bystanders such as Ross.

The medical examiner concluded that Gray, 25, suffered a severe spinal cord injury in the back of the van. His death a week later sparked widespread protests against police brutality at a time of growing debate over the deaths of young black men in interactions with police.

The rioting, looting and arson that broke out on the day of Gray's funeral, and the decision by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby to charge the six officers, drew more attention to the case.

The videos of Gray's arrest have been part of the debate from the start. But they took on new weight in the courtroom Thursday, as Porter watched and Gray's family and friends reacted.

Ross described being with Gray the morning of April 12, walking with him and another friend toward the intersection of West North Avenue and North Mount Street. Ross said he was on his way to see a man about a carpentry job.

"As we was turning the corner, Freddie started running," Ross said. The next time he saw Gray, he was in the custody of police.

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Bledsoe asked Ross what he saw at the intersection of Mount and Baker streets, where he recorded the video and where Porter is seen arriving in his patrol car.

Ross said officers picked Gray up by the ankles and wrists "and threw him onto the [van] floor like he was hogtied."

Gary Proctor, one of Porter's attorneys, pointed out that the video showed Ross and Porter knew each other by name.

He asked Ross why he turned to Porter — of all the officers on the scene — to call for a supervisor in order to make a complaint about Gray's treatment.

"The person you trusted with that complaint was Officer Porter?" Proctor asked.

"I wouldn't use the word 'trust,' but ..." Ross responded.

"The person you went to?" Proctor said.

"Yes," Ross said.

In a second round of questions, Bledsoe asked Ross to identify Porter in the video — close to the back of the van — as Gray was inside. She then pointed out Porter turning his back to the scene.

Proctor then had one more chance to question Ross.

"Is there anywhere in that video where Officer Porter lays a finger on Freddie Gray?" Proctor asked.

"Objection!" said Bledsoe.

"Overruled," said Williams.

"No," said Ross.

"Nothing further," said Proctor.

The Baltimore police van Freddie Gray was transported in the day of his arrest and injury is moved to the Courthouse East garage prior to being shown to jurors in the trial of officer William Porter.

Also Thursday, jurors were shown the van in which Gray was injured. The experience was conducted out of public view.

Eight state witnesses testified, including Ross, one of Porter's instructors at the police academy, a captain involved in shaping the Police Department's written policies, and the department's director of information technology.

Prosecutors focused on the training Porter received and the rules and procedures he is accused of not following, continuing a theme they sounded in opening statements Wednesday.

The defense continued its strategy of painting the city Police Department as a bumbling agency in which officers such as Porter were hampered by poor technology and communication gaps from hearing about those rules and procedures.

Bledsoe introduced into evidence a copy of a training booklet that Porter had filled out and asked the state's first witness of the day, Agent John Bilheimer, the academy instructor, to read a section.

"We do not transport injured people," Porter wrote. "We render aid per our training and contact the medic. We cannot render aid while driving. There are civil liabilities. We risk bodily fluid exposure."

Bledsoe also introduced a form signed by Porter in 2012 indicating that he had received the department's general orders.

Those orders instructed police to "ensure the safety" of anyone arrested, and to make sure detainees receive medical treatment if necessary.

An updated version issued on April 3, 2015 — nine days before Gray's arrest — was more explicit.

"Whenever a person is taken into custody: Ensure the safety of the detainee is maintained. Ensure medical treatment for a detainee is obtained when necessary or required at the nearest emergency medical facility."

Joseph Murtha, another of Porter's attorneys, asked Bilheimer who is responsible for a person in the back of a police transport van.

"It lies on the shoulders, it is actually the responsibility of the wagon operator, is that correct?" Murtha asked.

"Yes," Bilheimer said.

Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., the driver of the van in which Gray was injured, faces a charge of second-degree murder, the most serious charge in the case.

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Goodson has pleaded not guilty; his trial is scheduled to open next month.

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Freddie Gray briefly locked eyes with police about 8:39 a.m. on a breezeless, impoverished corner in West Baltimore, setting in motion a series of events that continue to spark protests nearly two weeks later. But unanswered questions remain.

Bilheimer said violations of the department's general orders are not typically the basis for criminal charges, but for internal police discipline.

Capt. Martin Bartness, the Police Department's chief of staff, was subjected to a barrage of questioning from Proctor about what the attorney called the complexity and inanity of internal police rules.

The 25-year-old's death from a spinal injury sustained in police custody made Freddie Gray a flashpoint in the nationwide debate over police brutality and sparked rioting in April that destroyed or damaged 380 businesses across Baltimore. Now, as Baltimore braces for the prosecution of six officers charged in his arrest and death, many in the city and around the nation see Gray as a symbol in the fight for equal justice - even as attorneys raise his past as an issue in motions related to the first trial, which begins Nov. 30.

"Would it be fair to say policy and procedure is not Baltimore police's top priority?" Proctor asked.

When Bartness didn't answer, Proctor pressed: "They're more interested in catching bad guys?"

"They're both priorities," Bartness said.

Andrew Jaffee, director of information technology for the Police Department, testified that he downloaded an archive of Porter's emails for a period of days surrounding Gray's arrest and confirmed that Porter had received an email with the updated policy on seat-belting all detainees just days before Gray's arrest.

But he said he could not determine whether Porter had opened, read or understood the email.

Other witnesses included Officer Jennifer Anderson, a crime lab technician for the department who took pictures of the van in which Gray was injured; Kevin Marcus, a technician for the city's closed-circuit television surveillance network, who testified about how the 700-camera system works; and Rick Opitz, a Department of General Services employee in charge of procuring the police van in which Gray was injured.

Toward the end of the day, Detective Syreeta Teel, the lead detective in the Police Department's investigation into Gray's death, briefly recounted how she became involved in the case. She will return to the stand Friday morning.

Williams called an end to the day's proceedings about 4 p.m.

Soon after, Gray's family gathered on the sidewalk outside. Ross was there too, ready with a hug for Gray's twin sister.

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