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Freddie Gray trial: Lawyers for Baltimore officer shift blame to van driver

By
Doug G. Ware
Defense attorneys for Baltimore police officer William Porter argued during his trial Thursday that he should not be held legally responsible for the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died in April after he was arrested and injured during his transport to a police station. Photo by Mr Doomits/Shutterstock
Defense attorneys for Baltimore police officer William Porter argued during his trial Thursday that he should not be held legally responsible for the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died in April after he was arrested and injured during his transport to a police station. Photo by Mr Doomits/Shutterstock

BALTIMORE, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Defense attorneys for a Baltimore city police officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray on Thursday attempted to shift blame for the high-profile death to the officer who drove the transport vehicle following the arrest nearly eight months ago.

William Porter is one of six Baltimore officers charged in the April 19 death of Gray, which occurred a week after he was arrested and placed inside a police van for transport to a nearby station. During the trip, the medical examiner concluded, Gray sustained a fatal spinal cord injury.

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Prosecutors say Gray was not properly buckled into a seat in the van, which contributed to the injuries he received during transport. Thursday, Porter's lawyers argued the driver, officer Caesar R. Goodson, Jr., not Porter, was responsible for securing Gray in the van.

Goodson faces the most serious charge in the case -- second-degree murder -- while Porter faces counts of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct and reckless endangerment. Thursday was the second day of Porter's trial.

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Brandon Ross, a friend of Gray's, was called to testify Thursday. Answering questions from both prosecutors and defense counsel, he acknowledged Porter is not seen touching Gray in video footage of the 25-year-old's arrest April 12.

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Ross took the video with his cellphone during the incident. In his video footage, Gray is seen kneeling on the ground as officers shackle his arms and legs. By the time they reached the police station, after several stops along the way, Gray had been seriously injured.

The video taken by Ross was shown in court Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reported. Gray's distraught mother was helped from the courtroom during a recess Thursday after it was shown to jurors.

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"Hey Porter, can we get a supervisor up here, please?" Ross is heard shouting in the footage, referring to the treatment of Gray. "That's not cool!"

Porter has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in the case. His lawyers argue it's not legally justifiable to hold him responsible because the officer isn't seen anywhere in the video even touching Gray.

Gray was arrested for possessing a knife, police previously said. His death touched off a wave of anti-police brutality protests in Baltimore lasting for weeks in the spring and summer.

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Porter's attorneys are reportedly pursuing a strategy intended to show that Goodson and the police department, not their client, are liable for Gray's death. Defense attorneys have attempted to portray the Baltimore Police Department's policies and procedures as flawed and outdated.

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Prosecutors, though, have emphasized department rules mandating medical attention for any detainees who ask for it and a requirement for all arrested persons to be safely secured in police vehicles for transport.

Neither provision was followed in Gray's case, said prosecutors -- who have argued that Porter's actions, or inaction, amounts to "criminal negligence."

"Whenever a person is taken into custody: Ensure the safety of the detainee is maintained. Ensure medical treatment for a detainee is obtained when necessary or required at the nearest emergency medical facility," prosecutors say the police department's documented policy, which was updated nine days before Gray's arrest, states.

None of the other five officers charged in the case has yet to stand trial. Goodson's is scheduled to begin next month.

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