Porter Takes Stand; Challenges His Video Statement

Dec 9, 2015

Police Officer William Porter
Credit Baltimore Police

Police Officer William Porter took the stand Wednesday in his own defense against accusations he had a role in the April death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from a broken neck.

Defense attorneys have tried to suggest that the van driver - Officer Caesar Goodson - was responsible for Gray's safety.

Porter, who was calm and relaxed while answering questions from his attorney, Gary Proctor, said he did not call for medical help because Gray did not tell him why he needed a medic.  He added Gray did not show any signs of being hurt.

He also said he relied on his police academy training to not put Gray in a seatbelt; Porter said that would have exposed his gun to Gray, putting himself in danger.

Porter is referring to an order that says seat-belting a detainee is at the discretion of the officer, based on safety requirements. That order was updated April 9 – three days before Gray’s arrest – to require all detainees to be placed in a seat belt.

The 26-year-old Porter said he was on the scene of 150 arrests where detainees were transported by police van, but none were placed in a seat belt.

Prosecutors say that Gray was injured because he was not wearing a seat belt.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Michael Schatzow asked Porter about a discrepancy between his testimony and that of Det. Syreeta Teel, who led the police investigation into the incident.

Teel testified Friday that Porter told Goodson that Gray informed him that he needed help and could not breathe.  Porter said Wednesday that Teel confused what he said and what Gray might have said when he was arrested.

Porter, became defensive as cross-examination continued.  He questioned parts of a transcript from the recorded statement he gave investigators on April 17; two days before Gray died.  He also took exception to Schatzow asking whether there was a “no-snitching culture” among police officers.

Porter was the second person called by the defense.

University of Maryland Law Professor Doug Colbert said Porter testifying because there is some clarification that needs to be made from his statement.

“The jury is going to have to decide whether Officer Porter’s inconsistencies are one that he handled correctly at trial or whether there are still unanswered questions to why he didn’t seat-belt [Gray] and why he didn’t seek medical help,” said Colbert.

Death By Accident

Vincent Di Maio, the first defense witness said Gray’s death shouldn’t have been ruled a homicide.

Di Maio, the former Chief Medical Examiner of Bexar County, Tex. said he thought Gray’s death was an accident “and accidents happen.”

He also said he did not agree with Maryland medical examiners who ruled that Gray suffered a broken neck between the second and fourth stops the police van made as it took him to the Western District station. It would have been “completely impossible” for Gray to talk to Porter at that fourth stop at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street if his neck was broken.

Di Maio said Gray was likely injured between van stops at Penn-North and the Western District police station.

Overall, he said Gray’s autopsy was “thorough” and “good.”

Di Maio is no stranger to being a defense expert witness in high-profile trials.  He testified on behalf of George Zimmerman, Phil Spector and Drew Peterson.

In the Zimmerman case in Florida, DiMaio said Trayvon Martin's injuries suggested he was on top of and leaning over Zimmerman when Zimmerman fired his gun, killing the unarmed black teenager.

Peterson, a former police officer in Illinois, was convicted of killing his third wife, although DiMaio testified she died as a result of a fall in a bathtub, not an assault.

Music producer Spector was convicted of killing an actress despite DiMaio's testimony that she shot herself.

Associated Press contributed to this story.