In anticipation of the jury deciding the case of State of Maryland v. William Porter, crowds outside the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse have grown steadily. They are loud but peaceful. On Wednesday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake flanked by Police Chief Kevin Davis and elected officials urged those present to refrain from violence. “We will not tolerate the destruction of our community…we need everyone to respect the judicial process,” said the Mayor. Without explaining what they would do, police in the city and state say they are ready if things go wrong.
The warning served as a passage into the context of the courtroom drama in which the Baltimore policeman is standing trial in the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who died a week after breaking his spine in a police van in the custody of Porter and five other officers. The prosecution in the case has already rested.
Inside the courtroom, it was the defense’s turn to change the narrative of the case. Over the course of three days Porter’s lawyers called 12 witnesses to the stand including Porter himself, who took the stand in his own defense. The week prior, the jury heard from Porter, 26, who gave a videotaped interview to the Baltimore police internal investigation unit.
His attorney, Gary Proctor had to accomplish several things: He needed to show his client as a human being, provide an answer as to why he didn’t put a seat belt on Gray, and why he didn’t provide assistance to Gray even though he had asked for a medic.
Prior to Officer Porter, retired pathologist Dr. Vincent DiMaio, who had previously testified in the George Zimmerman trial, took the stand. He reviewed the medical examiner’s findings and came to a different conclusion. DiMaio told the court, based on his professional opinion, this was not a homicide but rather an accident. The former medical examiner also questioned when the major injury occurred, suggesting the fifth and sixth stops, rather than earlier, which prosecutors had suggested. But he did acknowledge that if Gray were secured by a seat belt none of this would have happened.
Early in Officer Porter’s four-hour testimony, jurors learned he grew up in the same community as Gray, however they took different paths. Porter was active in the Police Athletic League and it influenced his decision to join the police in 2012. He described Gray as a “regular fixture” in the neighborhood and would talk to him when he wasn’t “dirty” (not carrying drugs). Porter never arrested Gray but had seen him arrested by other officers. He called their relationship, “respectful.”
On the his criminal charges — manslaughter, second degree assault, misconduct, and reckless endangerment — Porter clarified and changed some of his statements. Proctor asked why he didn’t put a seat-belt on Gray. According to the officer, his gun would have been accessible to Gray if he had reached across the seat to buckle him in. Porter also said it was not a standard procedure used by officers, despite it being part of the rules and regulations.
A considerable time was spent on Gray’s request for help and what he did. Officer Porter was present at five of six stops. He called to check on Gray in the police van at its fourth stop following a request from Officer Caesar Goodson, the driver of the van. Porter asks Gray what was wrong. He supposedly responded that he needed help getting up. During Porter’s testimony, he admitted he helped Gray from the floor to the bench. However, he adds Gray helped himself up as well. Porter said he asked if Gray needed a medic, and he said that he did. Porter relays the information to the driver that the prisoner has made a request for a medic.
At the sixth and final stop, the Western District Police Station, Porter explained what he saw when he opened the door to the van. He observed Gray on the floor, not breathing. He saw a clear mucus coming from Gray’s nose and mouth. Another officer, Zachary Novak, began administering a sternum rub, or a test for unconsciousness. There is no response and he calls for a medic.
“It felt like it took an eternity” for the medic to arrive, Porter said in testimony. When the medic arrived, she put her hand on Gray’s chest, but he is not breathing. He is then transported to the University of Maryland Hospital Shock Trauma Unit.
During cross examination, the prosecution challenged the change in statements from Porter. In a dramatic moment, Prosecutor Michael Schatzow asked Porter about a phenomenon in Baltimore regarding snitching. Porter corrected him, asking: “You mean, stop snitching?” Schatzow asks if there is “stop snitching” culture in the police department.
“Absolutely not,” Porter defiantly responds, “I’m offended you would say something like that.” During redirect from Porter’s attorney, Porter said, “I would never do that…cover for another officer.”
The defense called a parade of current and former police officers who addressed procedures and Porter’s credibility. One of the character witnesses is Helena Porter, the defendant’s mother. According to her, "He's a nice guy, an honest guy."
Both sides are expected to have closing arguments beginning Monday, and then send the case to the jury to decide Porter’s fate.