On Trial, Baltimore Officer Says He Tried To Help Freddie Gray

Officer William Porter, the first of six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man in Baltimore who died in police custody, claims he sought help for Gray.

The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Freddie Gray said Monday she wouldn’t have ruled his death a homicide if Baltimore police Officer William Porter had called for a medic “promptly” upon coming into contact with Gray.

Dr. Carol Allan, an assistant state medical examiner, returned to the witness stand for the start of the second week of the trial of Porter, one of six officers facing charges associated with the death of Gray in April. 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. Porter maintains that he sought help for Gray and is therefore not responsible for Gray’s death.

Gray, a 25-year-old black man, suffered a severe spinal cord injury in the back of a police van that led to his death seven days later. His death set off protests against police brutality and, ultimately, rioting in West Baltimore in the following weeks.

Earlier in the day, the trial started with the announcement that one of the jurors — a black woman — had to be replaced because of a medical emergency.

With the addition of a white male alternate, that meant the racial makeup of the jury changed to seven black jurors and five white ones. Given that the city is nearly two-thirds black, and that the case has come to symbolize simmering black distrust of the criminal justice system, the racial makeup of the jury was one of the more closely watched developments in the trial.

During an often testy, nearly two-hour cross-examination Monday morning, Allan faced a series of pointed questions on how she reached her finding that Gray’s death was a homicide.

Allan had previously testified that she believed Gray was injured April 12 between the second and fourth stops of the van, likely when he couldn’t brace himself as the vehicle sped up or slowed down rapidly.

According to previous testimony, when Porter finally discovered Gray in the back of the van at the fourth stop, Gray was handcuffed, shackled, and laying on his stomach with his head facing the front of the compartment. It was then, Allan said, that a medic should have been called for Gray.

But under questioning, Allan allowed she also wouldn’t have reached a finding of homicide in Gray’s death if the van’s driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, had gotten medical help for Gray.

“So if Goodson had followed the request of Porter and driven directly to the hospital, then you wouldn’t have considered this a homicide,” said Joseph Murtha, Porter’s attorney.

“That is correct,” Allan said.

Murtha also pressed Allan on her finding of homicide, saying that she could have also ruled Gray’s death an accident because of the absence of intent. Allan countered that intent isn’t necessary for a medical examiner to rule a death a homicide.

“I don’t think you’re making sense,” Allan told Murtha during one point in the exchange.

Other points of contention in the morning: Murtha got Allan to admit she had no evidence for her “theory” that Gray stood up in the back of the van, and that Allan didn’t consult with police about information on the agency’s seat belt policy — pivotal to her finding Gray’s death was a homicide — and instead Googled it herself.

Porter’s attorneys say that as soon as their client realized Gray was seriously injured, he called for help.

Monday was the most contentious day of the trial, with Judge Barry Williams scolding Allan for not directly answering questions and telling Murtha several times to ask questions and not to “testify.” At one point, Williams threatened to find Murtha in contempt of court following another lengthy exchange with Allan.

Later in the day, Murtha pressed Allan on why she didn’t personally interview Donta Allen, who was detained in the same van as Gray on April 12 and has previously claimed that he heard Gray "banging against the walls" of the van and believed he "was intentionally trying to injure himself."

Allan said that’s because Allen couldn’t see into the other compartment of the van. She also said that those noises could have been created by Gray having a seizure.

Dr. Morris Marc Soriano, a board-certified neurosurgeon from Rockford, Ill., with a specialty in spinal cord injuries, later testified Gray couldn’t have caused his own neck injury by trying to bang his head against the van. “It’s the wrong motion,” Soriano said. “It’s just not possible.”

Soriano likened Gray’s neck injury to one suffered during a diving accident or a motorist tossed from a vehicle in an accident.

The neurosurgeon also said prompt medical attention might have saved Gray's life. By the time Gray was discovered, motionless, in the back of the van, “he was developing a hunger for air.”

"Somewhere in that 22-24 minutes,” he said, referring from the time of the suspected injury to Gray receiving medical attention, “we lost Mr. Gray.”

The day’s final witness was Angelique Herbert, one of the two paramedics who arrived at the police station to transport Gray to the hospital. Herbert said when she first saw Gray, Porter and another unidentified officer were cradling his head and that his eyes were "open and he was looking straight ahead, but he wasn't moving."

Herbert told jurors that she placed her hand over Gray’s chest to check for a pulse and found none. Then she called for additional support.

“I think I yelled some obscenities, like, ‘What the hell?’” she said.

At the end of the day, Williams denied a last-minute defense request for a mistrial after learning of a document showing Gray previously told officers he suffered a back injury in an unrelated incident. Porter's attorneys argued prosecutors had kept that document from them.

Williams said Porter's attorneys could instead use the document as part of their defense.

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