BALTIMORE (AP) — A police officer charged with manslaughter in the death of Freddie Gray testified in his own defense Wednesday, saying he didn’t call for a medic because Gray was “unable to give me a reason for a medical emergency.”
Officer William Porter, the first of six officers to go on trial in Gray’s death, told jurors that Gray had no physical signs of injury when he checked on the man in a police wagon after his arrest. Porter was present at five of the van’s six stops during a 45-minute ride, and prosecutors say Gray suffered the critical spinal injury that eventually killed him during the van’s fourth stop.
“I didn’t’ call for a medic because after talking to Freddie Gray he was unable to give me a reason for a medical emergency,” Porter said.
Porter also faces assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges. If convicted on all of the charges, the maximum penalty he faces is about 25 years.
Prosecutors have argued that Porter should be held partially responsible for Gray’s death because he didn’t call for a medic and didn’t buckle the man into a seat belt, which is department policy.
Defense attorneys have suggested that the van driver was responsible for Gray’s safety and said Porter acted the way any reasonable officer would have. They also indicated the officer may have thought Gray was faking an injury to avoid going to jail.
Gray was a 25-year-old black man who died a week after suffering a spinal injury while riding, handcuffed and shackled, in the back of the van.
Porter, who is also black, told jurors that he overheard Gray screaming and mentioning something about needing an inhaler at the Gilmor Homes, where he was taken into custody when he ran away from officers. But when asked if Gray said he couldn’t breathe at the van’s fourth stop, Porter said, “absolutely not.”
One of the prosecution’s witnesses, however, testified that she called Porter days after Gray’s injury to ask what had happened and that the officer told her that during the van’s fourth stop, Gray complained that he couldn’t breathe. Detective Syreeta Teel, an internal affairs investigator, said the call was not recorded and at the time, Porter was a witness, not a suspect.
In a later recorded statement played for jurors, Porter said Gray only asked him for help off the van floor, and said yes when Porter asked if the man needed a medic.
Referencing the phone conversation is the only attempt prosecutors made to substantiate the claim that Gray told Porter he couldn’t breathe.
As for why he didn’t buckle Gray into a seat belt, Porter told the jury that the wagon is “pretty tight” and said that of his 200 arrests involving the transport van, he has never belted in a prisoner.