Goodson Trial: Did Porter hurt or help prosecutors

Jun 13, 2016

  Police Officer William Porter testified Monday that Officer Caesar Goodson said, “Sure,” when Porter suggested he take Freddie Gray to the hospital on April 12, 2015.

Yet Goodson, who was driving a police van, took Gray to the Western District Station before he was transferred to a hospital.

Porter, who spent two hours on the witness stand, described Gray as calm, lethargic, docile and non-combative when he responded to Goodson’s call for a “prisoner check” the day of Gray’s arrest at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street, the van’s fourth stop after picking up Gray in the 1700 block of Presbury Street.

Porter recounted his conversation with Gray.

“What’s up?” Porter asked.

“Help,” Gray responded.

“Help with what?’

“Help me up.”

Porter said he helped Gray from the floor of the van to the bench and that Gray also helped himself up.

He also said he told Goodson that Gray should go to the hospital because “[Gray] won’t make it past booking.”

Goodson, who opted for a bench trial in front of Circuit Judge Barry Williams, is facing the most serious charges in the Freddie Gray case; ranging from second degree depraved heart murder to reckless endangerment.

Porter, whose trial on manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges ended in a hung jury last December, was forced to testify against Goodson.

He said he checked on Gray again during a stop in the 1600 block of North Avenue, near Pennsylvania Avenue, where Goodson picked up another prisoner and that Gray said, “Yes,” when asked if he still wanted to go to the hospital.

Porter described Gray as being in “an even more exaggerated position” than at the previous stop.

Although Porter said under Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow’s examination that he helped Gray from the floor of the van to the bench, he told Goodson’s lawyer Matthew Fraling, there was no way he could lift Gray “in that tiny of a compartment.”

Porter also said he did not seek a medic for Gray at Pennsylvania and North because he didn’t think Gray needed one.

Porter did not take the stand by choice. He fought the order, signed by Williams in January, all the way to the Maryland Court of Appeals. His lawyers argued forcing him to testify would violate his right against self-incrimination.

But the state’s highest court sided with prosecutors in March that Porter’s testimony is in the public interest.

Now, his testimony falls under a grant of immunity in which it cannot be used against him at his new trial scheduled for September.

The benefits of Porter’s testimony

Legal experts who watched Porter’s testimony had mixed opinions on whether it was beneficial for prosecutors.

Defense Attorney Warren Brown said the testimony “hurts” the prosecution.

“You’ve got their witness saying the man aided us in helping him off the floor with his legs,” Brown said.

Brown added that the testimony conflicts with Dr. Carol Allan, the assistant state medical examiner who wrote the report on Freddie Gray’s death. She said he only had control of his extremities from the shoulders up during the trip to the Western District police station.

However, University of Baltimore Law Professor David Jarros said it was “hard to predict” if anyone benefitted from Porter’s testimony.  He said prosecutors were able to bring out key facts about what Goodson could see that day.

“At the same time,” he added, “if the judge believes some of what Officer Porter’s testified to as to Mr. Gray’s condition – particularly stop four and stop five – then that will help the defense cast some doubt as to when the accident occurred and just how much Officer Goodson should have been aware of the risk.”

But University of Maryland Law Professor Doug Colbert said the prosecution and the defense benefitted from Porter’s testimony.

“The prosecution’s [theory is] helped [by Porter’s testimony] because [it demonstrated] Officer Goodson did not do anything that would have safeguarded Freddie Gray’s condition while in the van and he did not take Freddie Gray to the hospital,” he said.

At the same time, Colbert said, Porter’s description of Gray’s condition as normal helped the defense.

“If the judge believes finds that testimony credible,” he said, “then certainly the defense would be able to find a reasonable doubt there.”