Rob Carr / AP

Baltimore officer ‘criminally neglected’ health of Freddie Gray, jury told

Prosecutor in trial says Baltimore officer William Porter failed to act after Freddie Gray's spinal injury in custody

An officer facing charges over the death of Freddie Gray “criminally neglected” his duty to keep the young black man safe after he sustained a spinal injury in police custody, a court heard Wednesday.

Officer William Porter failed to render aid to Gray, who repeatedly asked for medical attention after he was arrested, handcuffed and shackled at his feet, and driven around in a police transport van for about 45 minutes in April, prosecutors said.

"The defendant alone is on trial for what he did, or more importantly, what he did not do," prosecutor Michael Schatzow said during opening statements. 

Freddie Gray in an undated photo.

Gray's death triggered protests and rioting in the city, and helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement.

Porter faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. The charges carry maximum prison terms totaling about 25 years.

Schatzow said Wednesday that the officer was present at five of six stops a transport van made after arresting Gray and could have easily pushed a button on his uniform to call for help.

Prosecutors say at one point, Porter asked Gray if he needed a medic, and Gray replied that he could not breathe and could not move from the floor of the van, where he had been placed head-first and in plastic handcuffs and leg shackles.

Instead of calling a medic, prosecutors say Porter picked Gray up from the floor and placed him in an upright position on the bench, and did not secure him in a seatbelt.

Schatzow said Gray's injury occurred in a section of the spinal cord where the nerves control the chest and the diaphragm. He said such an injury would have impacted Gray's ability to breathe.

Evidence will show that Porter "criminally neglected" his duty to keep Gray safe, the prosecutor said.

Lawyers for the defense disputed the timing of when Gray was injured.

Defense attorney Gary Proctor told jurors that Porter asked Gray if he needed medical attention at the fourth stop the van made during Gray's 45-minute journey to the police station, but decided against calling a medic because Gray "wasn't wincing."

The defense attorney says there was not one word about Gray not being able to breathe. 

A jury was seated in the case earlier Wednesday following a selection process that was relatively brisk, given defense assertions in pretrial proceedings that it would be impossible to seat an impartial panel. Judge Barry Williams repeatedly denied defense motions to move the trial out of Baltimore.

Williams questioned 150 jurors over two days, mostly out of public view, in an efficient process designed to shield their identities. Some were dismissed, leaving a smaller pool for the final selection of 12 — eight women and four men — and four alternates.

Gray, 25, died April 19 of a severe spinal injury he suffered while riding in the back of police van without a seatbelt, a violation of department policy. Porter is accused of failing to get him medical help during several stops on the 45-minute trip. Gray arrived at a police station unresponsive, was taken to a hospital and died a week later.

According to a pretrial filing by defense attorneys, Porter told investigators that arresting Gray "was always a big scene" and indicated that he knew of a previous arrest in which Gray allegedly tried to kick out the windows of a police vehicle.

"You know, so he was always, always, like, banging around," Porter said in the filing. 

Porter will likely take the stand in his own defense.

For several days after Gray died, the demonstrations were mostly peaceful. But on the day he was buried, looting and rioting started, and businesses were burned down. The unrest caused at least $33 million in property damage and police overtime.

The verdict will be eagerly watched. If Porter is acquitted, there could be protests and possibly more unrest. A conviction could send shock waves through the city's troubled police department.

Five other officers have been arrested in the case. Two are black, while the other three are white. They will be tried separately beginning in January. Their trials are expected to last until the spring.

The Associated Press

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