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Defense Prosecutes Police Operations At Porter Trial

Porter: Baltimore Police; Police HQ: Mary Rose Madden/WYPR

While prosecutors have been putting police Officer William Porter on trial for the April death of Freddie Gray, defense attorneys have been prosecuting the operations of the Baltimore Police Department.

Closing arguments are set for Monday in Porter’s Trial.  He is facing several charges including involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office for Gray’s death from a broken neck he suffered while in police custody.

The defense has questioned whether Porter knew of a policy emailed days before Gray’s arrest.  They argued his access to email was limited because the Western District has only two computers, and they’re “antiquated.”

The department did not give him a smartphone with an app to check his email while he was on the street.  And even if he did have one, Officer Mark Gladhill testified that the app did not work all the time.

The defense also argued that even if regular – or working – email access was available, Porter would likely have had to sift through dozens of other emails he receives from the department on a daily basis.

In addition, there’s no way the police IT department would know if Porter opened his email to see Policy 1114; that’s the policy that requires all detainees to be placed in a seatbelt. 

There is also no way for the department to know if Policy 1114 was discussed at roll call either.

University of Maryland Carley Law School Professor Doug Colbert says the jury will have to consider the defense’s argument about lack of computer access as well as lack of training.

“Some will wonder why he didn’t get follow up training and why it wasn’t better than was,” Colbert said.  “And how do you expect someone to read an email that’s coming a couple of days before the weekend and you’re not providing good computers and you’re not reminding officers ‘hey this is important stuff.’”

Former City Prosecutor Warren Alperstein, who has represented city cops in criminal and civil matters, says there is “no dispute” about the lack of resources available to officers.

“They are underfunded.  They need better equipment; whether it be cars or any other tools of the trade that they need to be effective police officers.  But that also includes technology,” he said.

Some say that might be a hard argument to make considering the police department receives nearly double the amount of money in the city budget the schools receive.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake budgeted $475 million for the police department this year while schools received $258 million.

“If there’s a lack of computers and a lack of equipment; it’s either underfunded or the money’s not being allotted the way they logically should be,” Alperstein added.

There are bigger implications for the city beyond the trials of the six officers accused in Gray’s death.

The Justice Department launched a full scale civil rights investigation – known as a pattern or practice review – of the police department in May, nearly two weeks after riots rocked the city in the aftermath of Gray’s death.

Colbert says he believes the feds are keeping an eye on the Porter trial and that city residents should feel the department is ready for serious reform.

“I think the Justice Department will be looking closely at the practices here and will be making strong recommendations to change those practices,” he says adding he hopes new practices for officers will be the result of the Porter Trial.