The videos were both rocky, filmed with smartphones held in the jittery hands of Freddie Gray’s old neighborhood friends. In both of them, Gray was briefly seen bound at the hands and wrists by shackles and surrounded by police officers.
What couldn’t be seen on the videos, however, could be heard: Gray’s agonizing screams, his friends loudly protesting at his treatment by the officers, and neighbors pouring into the West Baltimore streets to ask about the source of the morning chaos.
“Is he all right?” an unidentified woman asked near the end of the second video.
“No, he ain’t all right,” said Gray’s longtime friend, Brandon Ross.
“You can hear him screaming and shit,” the woman said. Then the video was over.
That dramatic sequence was unveiled Thursday — its first public airing — for jurors in the trial of William Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers facing charges associated with the death of Gray in April. Gray, a 25-year-old West Baltimore native with a lengthy history of run-ins with the law, died after suffering fatal spinal injuries while in the hands of police in April. His death set off protests against police brutality and ultimately rioting in West Baltimore in the following weeks.
Near the end of the video, Gray’s mother started sobbing loudly and had to be escorted out of the courtroom. Ross, who described his relationship Thursday with Gray as “like brothers,” was excused from the witness stand as the judge called for a recess, an emotional punctuation to the most riveting moment of the trial.
Porter, 26, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment associated with Gray’s death. He has pleaded not guilty. The other five officers will be tried consecutively, starting Jan. 6.
Once Ross returned to the stand later that afternoon, Porter’s attorneys pointed out that their client was barely shown in the videos.
“Is there anywhere in that video,” asked defense attorney Gary Proctor, “that Officer Porter lays a finger on Freddie Gray?”
“No,” Ross said.
Ross’ testimony provided a theatrical shift from the prior proceedings, which had focused heavily on procedural and training questions directed at officers and city employees.
Ross was the first person to appear on the witness stand who wasn’t employed by the city. Unlike the other witnesses, who had their occupation listed on a TV screen behind the witness stand, Ross only had his name shown.
Ross is 31 and a native of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where Gray was raised and not too far from where the worst of the city’s unrest and damage was concentrated following his death.
Prosecutors had Ross outline the last few minutes he spent with Gray on the morning of April 12, when they and another unidentified friend met up to go meet someone about a carpentry job Ross was seeking.
Using large maps and video from city cameras posted around West Baltimore, prosecutors directed Ross to tell — and show them — their route that morning. As the group turned a corner, Ross said, he said Gray bolted around the corner.
The next time Ross saw him, he told the court, Gray was on the ground in shackles with officers kneeling down around him. In a video taken by Kevin Moore, another West Baltimore resident, Gray is already screaming. “Owwwwwwwwwww. Tell him to get off me,” Gray said on the video.
“They tased the fuck out of him,” said a voice belonging to Moore. “They tased him like that and wonder why he can’t use his legs.”
After Gray was loaded into the police van, Ross said he and another friend walked down the street and borrowed a cell phone to call 911. Within minutes, Ross said, they came across the police van again. This time, Gray was in handcuffs and leaning against the van’s back platform.
Ross said he started recording. “That ain’t cool, man,” he could be heard saying on the video. “Can we get a supervisor up here?”
A voice off the screen, allegedly belonging to Porter, told Ross that he could “take the video to media.”
Freddie Gray died in April. An earlier version of this story misstated the date.