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Officer Charged In Freddie Gray's Death Testifies He Did Nothing Wrong


We are also tracking the latest testimony in the trial of a Baltimore police officer. The officer is William Porter, and he has taken the stand in his own defense.


Porter is accused of manslaughter in the death of Freddie Gray who died a week after his injury. Gray was given a ride in a van. He suffered a spinal injury, but Porter has testified that he saw no sign of this.

INSKEEP: He says he checked on the prisoner and says the prisoner did not appear injured. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: William Porter was relaxed and well-rehearsed on the stand. The 26-year-old black man told jurors he knew Gray and others on his beat by their first names and had a rapport with them. The Sunday morning of Gray's arrest, Porter said he was doing crowd control, trying to calm people upset at the way police were treating Gray. He said he didn't have any interaction with Gray until the fourth stop of the police van that was transporting him, an exchange that is at the heart of the state's case. Prosecutors argue Gray had already fallen in the van and broken his neck by this point. They say Porter should have realized something was wrong and called a medic. But Porter told jurors Gray seemed perfectly fine - speaking normally, making eye contact. One of Porter's lawyers lay on the floor in front of jurors as Porter demonstrated how he helped Gray up onto a bench. He said Gray helped lift himself - hardly the behavior of someone with a broken neck. He said Gray wanted a medic, but wouldn't say for what. Porter figured Gray was faking it. He said lots of arrestees do that. But he said he and the van driver decided that after they picked up someone else, they'd take Gray to a hospital so he could be cleared for central booking.

WARREN ALPERSTEIN: Officer Porter's testimony came across very well for the defense.

LUDDEN: Warren Alperstein is a former Baltimore prosecutor.

ALPERSTEIN: Competent, honest, an officer who is young but yet demonstrates, you know, to the jury that he really cares about the folks in his community.

LUDDEN: Earlier, the defense called a forensic pathologist who backed up Porter's story. Vincent Di Maio said he thinks Gray's injury was so catastrophic that he was immediately paralyzed and unable to breathe or talk, in which case he could not have broken his neck until near the end of the van ride when he was found unconscious. On cross examination, Di Maio did say if Gray had been seat belted, he would not have been injured. Officer Porter testified that of 150 arrests he's taken part in, none of the detainees have been seat belted. That's a violation of department policy, though not necessarily a crime.

DAVID JAROS: Unlike other cases involving police misconduct, this is a case which is based on an omission - a failure of the police to do something. And that presents its own very significant challenges.

LUDDEN: David Jaros is a law professor at the University of Baltimore. He says even if the jury sides with the prosecution's version of events, getting a conviction could be tough.

JAROS: You had to know that your failure to do your duty - right? - his failure to get medical attention would lead to a high probability that Freddie Gray would die.

LUDDEN: As Officer Porter was on the stand, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other community leaders appealed for calm when the verdict comes out. We have to respect the jury's decision, she said, even if we don't agree with it. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.