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Cop talk: Clear and confident, Porter describes the events of the morning of April 12

William Porter rose from his seat Wednesday morning and stepped toward the witness stand even before his attorney officially called his name, before the people in the gallery and the lawyers at the trial tables in Baltimore Circuit Court had settled into their seats after a brief recess.

Not surprisingly, the young police officer was eager to testify in his own defense, to answer a prosecutor’s accusation that he had shown a “callous indifference” to the late Freddie Gray by not securing him with a seat belt in a police van and failing to summon medical help when asked. Gray was handcuffed and shackled at the time.

The first question to Porter from his attorney: “Did you know Freddie Gray?”
“Yes,” Porter said. “If he wasn’t dirty, he’d come out and talk to me.”
“Dirty,” of course, means being in possession of illegal narcotics, and there, in the opening flourish of the defendant’s highly anticipated testimony, the jury got a dose of Porter’s cop-talk -- a combination of street vernacular and the paramilitary jargon of the Baltimore Police Department that colored the officer’s descriptions of events of Sunday, April 12.
Through the first 90 minutes of his testimony, the 26-year-old Porter, stocky in build and a bit baby-faced, answered questions in a clear and confident voice. He might have been eager to get into the witness chair, but he was certainly relaxed. After telling the jury about his journey through life -- from a poor family in West Baltimore to the Police Athletic League to the Baltimore Police Academy -- Porter described his actions on the day he and at least five fellow officers played various roles in Gray’s apprehension, arrest and transport.
Gray died a week later from traumatic injuries sustained during his ride through West Baltimore in the police van. Porter is the first of the Freddie Gray Six to stand trial, and he is the youngest. He is also the one defendant who seems to have heard or seen some aspect of each stop along Gray’s final trip through his west-side neighborhood.
His lawyer, Gary Proctor, walked him through all that, stopping here and there to ask Porter to explain police terminology or characterizations for the jury. Here are some of the words and phrases Porter used during Wednesday morning’s testimony:
“Toe tags”: A police officer’s term for paperwork that accompanies arrestees on their way to Central Booking and Intake Center.
“Interview position”: The position Porter says he was in -- arms to his sides -- while speaking with and attempting to calm an agitated bystander who was upset with the way Gray had been treated by other officers.
“Antiquated”: Porter’s adjective for the computer system at the Western Police District, invoked as part of the defense strategy to suggest that a hard-working police officer in one of the city’s busiest districts easily could have missed an emailed order about using seat belts to secure people in custody in vans.
“Twenty-seven minutes”: Duration of the district’s daily roll call.
“Exciting first day at work”: Porter described seeing a shooting victim at a nightclub and a church fire during his first day on the job in 2012.
“10-16”: Code for an officer in need of backup. Porter was waiting to wash his police cruiser on the morning of April 12 when he heard this call for support from his supervising lieutenant.
“10-11”: Another code, a request for an officer to meet at a particular address. Porter got this from the driver of the van transporting Gray. He went off to meet the van at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street.
“Push-put”: When asked about the moment Gray got into the police van, Porter used this word, slipping between “push” and “put,” saying, “I saw him being push-put into the van.”
“Jailitis”: A term used to describe people who feign an ailment or injury after they’ve been arrested and are facing transport to Central Booking. “Typically,” Porter said, “people who are arrested don’t want to be arrested.”
“Actively resisting”: Porter’s term to describe suspects who struggle with police officers while in custody.
“Dip”: The front of a suspect’s pants.
“Stop Snitching”: The jurors might be Baltimore citizens, but Porter did not assume they all knew this phrase. Baltimore, he said, “has a ‘stop snitching’ culture. People don’t say anything to police all the time.”
“It felt like an eternity”: How Porter characterized his wait for a city ambulance to get to the Western District, the final destination of the van in which Gray sustained his fatal injury.

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