Criminal Defense attorney Warren Alperstein talks about Judge Barry Williams ruling on statements made by two officers' being admissible in the Freddie Gray case. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
A Baltimore judge ruled Tuesday that statements made by two of the six police officers charged in Freddie Gray's arrest and death are admissible as evidence in their own trials and possibly in the trials of their peers.
Judge Barry Williams denied motions by attorneys for Sgt. Alicia D. White and Officer William G. Porter to suppress statements they made to police investigators in the aftermath of Gray's arrest in April. The officers had argued that the statements were obtained improperly.
Prosecutors consider the officers' statements to be key evidence in their cases. They view Porter, who is scheduled to be tried first, as a material witness against White and Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., the driver of the police van in which Gray is alleged to have suffered a severe spinal cord injury after his arrest April 12.
In the days following Gray's arrest, five of the six officers who interacted with him provided statements to police investigators. Goodson refused to talk to investigators.
Gray, 25, died April 19. Criminal charges were announced against the six officers May 1.
Ivan Bates, one of White's attorneys, suggested that police investigators had tricked White into providing a statement by making her think she was a witness when she was a suspect, and by leading her to believe that signing papers waiving her Miranda rights and her rights under the state Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights did not amount to giving up those rights.
Gary Proctor, one of Porter's attorneys, argued that investigators violated Porter's rights as a law enforcement officer by discussing the case with him multiple times before advising him of his rights and by not following protocols outlined in the officers' bill of rights.
Prosecutors said the statements were obtained properly. At one point in the hearing, Deputy State's Attorney Jan Bledsoe called Bates' suggestion that a police sergeant did not understand her rights when she agreed to give a statement "a serious problem."
Williams said that there was no evidence that White or Porter were coerced, compelled or threatened before giving their statements, and that the state had met its burden of proving they did so voluntarily.
"Sergeant White had the opportunity to say no" to police investigators multiple times but did not, Williams said. The judge said there was no evidence that investigators had used undue influence to compel Porter to speak to them.
Three members of the police Force Investigation Team testified about the interrogation of White. They were the first witnesses to appear in the high-profile case. One of them, Detective Syreeta Teel, also testified about her questioning of Porter.
Three other officers charged in the case — Lt. Brian W. Rice and Officers Edward M. Nero and Garrett E. Miller — agreed Tuesday to withdraw their motions to suppress their statements. They did so after Williams rejected their requests to postpone hearings on the motions. Their trials are not scheduled until next year, and such hearings usually occur closer to trial. The officers could refile motions to suppress their statements.
The admissibility of the officers' statements dominated proceedings Tuesday. But Williams also rebuked prosecutors for not providing some evidence to the defense earlier. He ordered the prosecution to provide all evidence it gathered during its independent investigation of Gray's death to the defense by Oct. 28.
He canceled a motions hearing that had been scheduled for Wednesday.
The judge also announced a gag order, barring prosecutors and defense attorneys from discussing the case with anyone not on their legal teams.
Tuesday's hearing was at times contentious, with attorneys on both sides raising objections. Williams interrupted the proceedings to call defense attorneys and prosecutors to the bench. White noise was played over courtroom speakers to render their conversations inaudible.
At one point, Williams appeared to grow frustrated with a line of questioning by Bates about White being told that initialing specific lines on the Miranda waiver did not indicate she was waiving her rights. A separate signature at the bottom of the page did mean she was waiving those rights.
"Move on or face contempt," Williams said.
Williams did not allow Bates to question witnesses about a police order that Bates said requires officers to testify if they are witnesses to a crime.
The judge appeared particularly agitated during the testimony of former FIT supervisor Sgt. Tashawna Gaines.
Gaines, called by the defense, testified that she told White that she was only a witness before White provided her first statement.
During cross-examination, Bledsoe asked Gaines why she had not "memorialized" her conversation with White by taking notes. Gaines said that was "not the practice" for FIT supervisors, and that she was having regular conversations with the state's attorney's office to keep prosecutors apprised of the investigation.
At one point, Bledsoe told Gaines to stop looking over at Bates.
Bates' partner, Tony Garcia, jumped up.
"Objection!" Garcia said.
"Your honor," said Bates.
"Quiet!" Williams shouted, before sustaining the objection and advising everyone to move on.
Other testimony also drew Williams' ire.
Proctor asked Teel about the way in which she asked Porter to provide a statement. According to the defense attorney, Teel said: "I need you to tell me what happened."
Proctor asked Teel if she was familiar with the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the word "need."
Williams intervened, warning Proctor that he would hold him in contempt if he continued to ask "snarky" questions.
The hearing was the first time that all six of the officers appeared in court. The men wore dark suits. White wore a white and black floral print shirt and a black skirt. All six sat together on the bench. They appeared calm.
At least 14 defense attorneys attended the hearing on behalf of the officers.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby also attended the hearing. She sat behind two of her deputies, Bledsoe and Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow, but did not participate.
The six officers face a range of charges. Goodson is charged with second-degree murder. White, Porter and Rice are charged with manslaughter. Nero and Miller face lesser charges, including second-degree assault. All six have been charged with misconduct.
All have pleaded not guilty to all charges and have been free on bail.
During the officers' conversations with investigators, they described what they heard and saw during the 45 minutes between Gray's arrest and his arrival at the Western District police station, where he was found unresponsive in the back of the police van.
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