Judge Barry Williams ruled last week that Officer William Porter will not have to testify in the three fellow Baltimore police officers’ trials in the death of Freddie Gray. Officers Edward Nero and Garrett Miller, and Lt. Brian Rice were the arresting officers and are charged with reckless endangerment and misconduct. Lt. Rice has an additional charge of assault and manslaughter.
During a pre-trial hearing, State's Attorney Michael Schatzow argued Porter could testify that the arresting officers did not use seatbelts to secure Gray in the police van en route to the police station. By the time they got there, Gray was unable to breathe or walk and he died from spinal injuries received while in police custody.
In questioning Attorney Schatzow, Judge Williams asked, “are you setting Officer Porter up to perjure himself?” To which Schatzow replied: “I don't see how we're setting him up.” The judge called it “problematic,” despite Porter being granted limited immunity and ruled against the prosecution's motion to force Porter to testify.
However, Porter will still have to testify in the cases of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., and Sgt. Alicia White, according to Williams' ruling. Porters lawyers are appealing that decision, which is tied up in the Court of Special Appeals, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Long time Criminal Defense Attorney Curt Anderson said this was a clear case of “the state failing to meet its burden in forcing him (Porter) to testify “It’s a balancing act. There may be information that an officer has that is important. How important? The judge determined not enough to counterbalance his rights under the constitution,” said Anderson.
Meanwhile, outside the courtroom, observers continue to question why Judge Williams ordered the jurors not to talk to the media after the case. The Porter case ended in a mistrial and is scheduled to be heard again in June. The Sun interviewed an anonymous juror who claimed they were one vote away from an acquittal. It was the first time the public has heard how the jury is possibly thinking about these cases.
Morgan State University Assistant Professor Lamont Summers calls the judge’s instructions problematic. Professor Summers, who teaches Media Law and Ethics at the School of Global Journalism, says the judge, “was outside his authority on (jurors) telling their story.” He noted, “The judge’s prime concern during trial should be ‘Are the proceedings fair?’ Is the process transparent?” Several news organizations have filed briefs with the court on this issue, asking the judge not to instruct the jury to refrain from talking about the case at its conclusion.
Professor Summer says the narrative of what happened in April 2015 is told through the most sensational video— the subsequent looting and burning. He sees this as a “structural problem with journalism…you’re going to let the audience know how it was covered.” The show glosses over the endemic poverty and the estranged police-community relationship. This practice of so-called “helicopter journalism” also raised its ugly head in Ferguson, Missouri following the death of Michael Brown.
CNN aired a documentary last week called, “Who Killed Freddie Gray?” The documentary, hosted by Miguel Marquez in conjunction with the Baltimore Sun, chronicles the arrest and death of Gray. The documentary features interviews with a number of Sun Reporters, the new Baltimore City Police Chief, community activists, and an individual who knew Gray and videotaped his arrest.
Legal scholars also note the documentary never follows up on a police theory that Gray caused his own death in the back of the van. According to CNN, they did reach out to defense attorneys representing the officers charged with Gray’s death, who in turn, declined to cooperate.