At the end of the month, the first of six Baltimore police officers charged with various crimes related to Freddie Gray’s death, will go to trial. Gray died a week after his April 12, 2015 arrest after suffering a spinal cord injury while in police custody. This is not a case of classic “police brutality.” No officer is charged with beating him and causing the injury; rather, the theory is based on omission–the failure to place a seatbelt on him and to render aid–among other allegations.
William Porter’s trial is first; many believe he is the least culpable of the group. Read his indictment here. All the actions charged occurred between 8:30 a.m and 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, April 12, 2015. Officers on patrol saw something that raised their suspicions in a high crime, high drug area. Freddie Gray broke into a run. They chased and caught Gray then a spring-action knife. Gray was a arrested. Gray was placed into the back of a police van to be transported to the police station. Officer Porter is not at the scene of Gray’s arrest. Along the way, the van made four stops. At one of those stops, Gray was leg-shackled because he had been allegedly banging around and acting out. He had also asked for medical assistance but none was given to him until the van arrived at the police station and Gray was found unresponsive.
As I write this, I’m unclear if Porter first enters the scene at the third or fourth stop but he has a conversation with another defendant, Alicia White, who was a sergeant. (I believe it was the stop prior to arriving at the police station.) Porter allegedly made statements to White that Gray appeared to be in distress and that Central Booking wouldn’t take Gray if he needed medical attention. According to a Baltimore Sun article, Porter also said, in substance, that it was hard to tell whether Gray was truly in distress or faking it. The judge ruled after a hearing last month that the statements are admissible against Porter.
The legality of Gray’s arrest will be an issue at trial–at least as it relates to the officers who arrested Gray. Porter’s attorneys are asking the court not to allow evidence of what the State believes was an unlawful arrest to be a part of Porter’s case. He wasn’t present, and didn’t witness the chase and the arrest. Moreover, there’s no charge that the six officers conspired against him. (If so, then all the evidence would arguably be admissible against all defendants.) Read the motion in limine related to the circumstances of the arrest here.
Based on court filings that are currently in the public file, it appears that two other motions filed by Porter are still outstanding. Each relates to the failure to restrain Gray with a seatbelt. One motion seeks to dismiss the second degree assault charge. (Read it here.) Porter’s attorneys make what appears to be a strong argument that the type of assault charged (failure to seatbelt caused Gray to hit the wall) does not exist under Maryland law.
The other outstanding motion is a motion in limine that seeks to preclude evidence or argument by the State that the failure to place a seatbelt on Gray rises to the level of gross or criminal negligence. (Read it here.) The motion cites Maryland law that the failure to place a seatbelt is not even what’s called “ordinary negligence” let alone the higher standard of gross or criminal negligence. The motion also states that every court in the country that has been asked whether the failure to place a seatbelt on a handcuffed and leg-shackled prisoner can constitute gross or criminal negligence has said no. There was, however, a new policy in Baltimore (not statewide) that required prisoners to be seat belted. That policy went into effect 10 days before Gray’s arrest.