BALTIMORE » Baltimore Police Officer William G. Porter told police investigators in a recorded interview played for jurors today that he didn’t believe Freddie Gray was truly injured as the 25-year-old asked for medical attention in the back of a police van.
Porter, speaking to detectives in April as Gray lay in a hospital bed with a spine injury, said he knew Gray from prior interactions and that he had a reputation for being difficult during arrests. He said Gray seemed lethargic inside the van, but responded to questions and did not articulate a specific medical problem.
“I said, ‘What’s your deal, what’s wrong with you? … He doesn’t say anything, just ‘Help,’” Porter told the investigators on the video recording.
Porter, 26, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office, with prosecutors alleging that his failure to put Gray in a seat belt or immediately seek medical attention for him showed “gross indifference” that rose to criminal negligence. Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said there was “no reason not to put him in a seat belt, unless you simply didn’t care.”
The defense has said that realities on the street cloud officers’ application of department rules. They said officers have discretion, and Porter showed concern for Gray’s well-being.
Police training instructors have testified that it is department policy to call for a medic for anyone who appears injured or asks to be taken to a hospital. But Porter told investigators in the recording that arrestees regularly feigned injury to avoid going to jail, and that medics routinely wouldn’t respond when requested unless an “exigent” situation was apparent.
Instead, Porter said, he told the van driver and later a supervisor that Gray wouldn’t be accepted at Central Booking if he was complaining of injury, and would require a trip to the hospital. Officers agreed that Gray would be taken by police van to Bon Secours Hospital, he said, and Porter would be assigned to stay with him.
“The medic won’t take a prisoner if we already have a transport vehicle,” Porter told the investigators. “You transport them in the wagon.”
Before they could get there, Porter said Gray was discovered unconscious and not breathing. Porter demonstrated Gray’s position in the van by putting his hands behind his back and slumping into the interview table. Porter recalled someone saying at that point, “Oh s—-, we need to call for a medic.”
Porter is the first of six officers to go to trial in Gray’s death, an incident that sparked weeks of unrest and led to a citywide curfew.
Also Friday, Dr. Carol Allan, the assistant state medical examiner who conducted Gray’s autopsy and ruled his death a homicide, took the stand and began detailing the injuries she documented. Prosecutors have said Gray suffered a high impact injury akin to diving into a shallow pool, and Allan said his spine was compressed when one vertebrae “pushed forward” over another.
A picture of Gray’s spine, removed from his body, was shown to jurors, as were scans of his body taken at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Gray’s brain was sliced into thin sections, which showed swelling, Allan said.
Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe asked Allan if she had a “reasonable certainty” about the cause and manner of death, to which she replied she did.
Defense attorneys are expected to attack her findings next week, and plan to present their own expert witnesses.
Porter’s video interview with detectives was recorded five days after Gray’s arrest. Porter first spoke to Syreeta Teel, the lead detective in the department’s investigation, over the phone. On the witness stand Friday, Teel recounted that Porter had told her that Gray said he could not breathe. Prosecutors have focused on that statement as evidence that Porter should have known Gray had a serious medical problem.
In his recorded interview, Porter told Teel that Gray had no trouble breathing. Defense attorneys questioned the accuracy of Teel’s notes of the phone conversation, but she stood by the account.
Wearing his police uniform, Porter spoke quickly but gave full answers to questions posed by Teel and another investigator, Ray Anderson. He laughed occasionally, and seemed at ease. He waived his right to a lawyer, and carefully read over his legal protections under the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which he said he had never seen before.
Teel said Porter was cooperative, and that she did not consider him a suspect but rather a witness.
Porter described arriving on the arrest scene in West Baltimore after responding to a call for additional units. He first tried to track down someone who was with Gray, but returned to the scene as other officers were putting Gray into a transport van. Porter described a scene where a crowd was growing, yelling “police brutality” as Gray wailed in pain. Onlookers claimed Gray had been shocked with a Taser, which investigators later found no evidence of.
Prosecutors have said they do not believe Gray was seriously injured at that point, saying video shows he was able to lift his head and support his weight.
In the recording, Porter said he did not see anyone use force as Gray was loaded into the van on his stomach, with his hands shackled. The three officers involved in Gray’s arrest have also been charged and have trials scheduled next year.
Porter said people who are arrested frequently go limp and ask to be taken to the hospital, where doctors determine there is nothing wrong. He believed Gray was simply being uncooperative, and said he had witnessed Gray during a previous arrest trying to kick out the windows of a police vehicle.
Once Gray was inside the van after his arrest at Gilmor Homes, he began rocking the vehicle back and forth violently, Porter told investigators.
“Is there any way it’s possible he needed medical attention right there and then?” Anderson asked Porter, to which Porter replied that he saw no signs of that.
Porter later responded to another intersection, where the van’s driver — Officer Caesar Goodson, who has also been charged — had asked for help checking on Gray. Porter said Gray was on the floor of the van, and that he helped Gray up.
He and Goodson agreed, he said, that Central Booking wouldn’t take Gray in that condition. But Porter thought Gray just seemed “lethargic,” like he’d had an “adrenaline dump” after fighting in the van and running from police.
Asked why he didn’t put a seat belt on Gray at that point — police vans are equipped with 10 seat belts and their use is required by policy — Porter said he “left before the (van) doors were shut” to respond to the last stop before the Western District station, where another arrestee was placed in a separate van compartment.
Defense attorney Gary Proctor asked Teel about her impression of how Porter had handled the situation once they reached the district station, and he noticed Gray was unconscious.
“As soon as Officer Porter noticed medical symptoms, within 10 seconds, a medic was called. Is that fair to say?” Proctor asked.
“Yes,” Teel said.