Jury selection begins in trial of police officer in Freddie Gray’s death

William Porter is first of six officers scheduled for trials in Baltimore over Gray’s death from injury in custody

The Baltimore police officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. Top, from left: Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., Officer Edward M. Nero and Officer Garrett E Miller; bottom, from left: Officer William G. Porter, Lt. Brian W. Rice and Sgt. Alicia D. White.
Baltimore Police Department/Handout/Reuters

Jury selection begins Monday in the trial of a Baltimore police officer charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray from an injury suffered while in police custody — an event that triggered sometimes violent protests and fueled a U.S. debate on police brutality.

The officer, William Porter, 26, is the first of six scheduled for separate trials in Baltimore City Circuit Court for Gray's death in April.

Judge Barry Williams last week ordered the identities of jurors to be shielded to keep them from facing outside pressure.

Gray, 25, died from a spinal injury suffered in the back of a police transport van after he was taken into custody. Porter is accused of ignoring Gray's requests for medical aid and not putting a seat belt on him, even though he was shackled and handcuffed.

Porter faces charges of second-degree assault, manslaughter, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. If convicted on all counts, he could face more than 25 years in prison.

Freddie Gray in an undated photo.

The other officers are charged with offenses ranging from second-degree murder, for van driver Officer Caesar Goodson, to misconduct.

Protests, rioting and looting flared in the largely black city after Gray's death, and National Guard troops were sent in, and a curfew was imposed to restore order. Gray's death added fuel to a national debate on police tactics and treatment of minorities.

Prosecutors have said they want Porter to testify first so they can use him as a potential witness against Goodson and Sgt. Alicia White.

Porter's lawyers have said in court papers that he was ready to testify in his defense. Three of the six officers, including Porter, are black, and three are white.

David Jaros, a University of Baltimore associate law professor, said prosecutors face a tough challenge in convicting Porter and the other officers.

Police are normally reluctant to testify against other officers, and judges and juries tend to acquit in misconduct cases, he said. Prosecutors will have to show that a reasonable person would have tried to get Gray medical aid and that Porter failed to do so.

"I keep waiting for — if not a smoking gun — at least a warm weapon to reveal itself," Jaros said.

Starting dates for the other trials are from Jan. 6 to March 9. Baltimore agreed in September to pay a $6.4 million civil settlement to Gray's family.


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