Protesters gather outside courthouse
A small group of demonstrators has gathered outside the Baltimore Circuit Court for the trial of William Porter, one of six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died a week after being injured in the back of a police transport van.
A handful of protesters held signs Thursday morning. One banner read, “Jobs and Education, Not Police Terror” and “Black Lives Matter.”
The defense continues its case Thursday. Prosecutors rested their case earlier this week after 16 witnesses and five days of testimony.
Porter himself took the stand Wednesday to try and convince jurors he did nothing wrong. Prosecutors say Porter is partially responsible for Gray's death for failing to call a medic when Gray indicated he needed help, and for not buckling the man into a seat belt.
Porter faces manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges.
He testified that he told the van driver, Caesar Goodson, to take Gray to the hospital but Gray didn't appear injured when Porter saw him during the van's fourth stop. Porter also said it was Goodson's responsibility to make sure Gray was buckled in. — Associated Press, 9:30 a.m.
Defense attorneys for Baltimore Police Officer William Porter began presenting their case to jurors on Wednesday after Judge Barry G. Williams turned back their request to dismiss the charges against him.
-- Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a forensic pathologist, testified that Gray's death should have been ruled an accident, and says Gray was injured between the fifth and sixth stops of the police transport van that he was placed in following his arrest on April 12.
-- Porter took the stand in his own defense, testifying that he never believed Gray was injured until finding him unconscious at the Western District police station.
-- As he told investigators in April, Porter said that he did not believe Gray was injured but had put in motion a plan to get him to the hospital. His attorney, Gary Proctor, asked if he was "sorry" that Gray had died. "Absolutely," Porter said, explaining that he and Gray had a "mutual respect."
-- Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow asked Porter questions about why he didn't follow department procedures, and why he was adding new or inconsistent details to his original account of the incident. Schatzow also asked Porter whether there was a code of "no snitching" in the Police Department, which drew an angry response from Porter.
-- Officer Zachary Novak, who participated in loading Gray into the transport wagon and was with Porter when Gray was found unresponsive, testified about what he saw. Novak was granted immunity by the state but testified as a defense witness.
-- Novak explained rendering aid to Gray after he was found unconscious, an account that showed little involvement from Porter. He agreed with Porter, however, that few arrestees are seatbelted by officers after being loaded into arrest vans.
Trial continues Thursday morning.
Zachary Novak takes witness stand
After Porter’s testimony, the defense called Zachary Novak to the witness stand. Novak, a Baltimore police officer, was involved in Gray’s initial arrest and also called a medic to the Western District police station after Gray was discovered there unconscious.
Novak is not one of the six officers charged in Gray’s arrest and death. He was a witness for the state before the Grand Jury that indicted the officers, but was not called by the prosecution in Porter’s trial.
It was revealed during his testimony that he was given immunity by the state.
Novak testified that he has been part of about 100 arrests in his career on the force, and that a wagon was used in about 90 percent of those arrests. Of those arrests involving a wagon, he said a seat belt was used in about 10 percent.
Novak said he seat belts detainees when they are in his custody, but that when a wagon is involved, the wagon driver is presumed to have primary custody of the detainee.
On cross-examination by Deputy State’s Attorney Jan Bledsoe, Novak testified that if another officer specifically asked him to seat-belt a detainee, he would.
He also testified that he would call a medic if a detainee asked for one, but said, “I usually like to give my medic some information” pertaining to the medical issues of the detainee. He said a dispatcher might request that information by saying, “Well what do you have?”
Bledsoe questioned Novak on his response. “Do you remember giving that long explanation in front of the Grand Jury?” she asked.
“I do not,” Novak said.
“In fact, you didn’t,” Bledsoe said, before the defense objected.
Novak also testified that he could not recall Gray’s exact position in the van at the Western District station, but said he believed Gray’s head was close to the rear of the wagon because he would remember if he had to climb into the van to pull Gray out. Instead, he only recalls hooking his arms under Gray’s to lift him out, he said.
Bledsoe said Novak had told the Grand Jury that he was unsure of Gray’s position in the van.
National Guard on possible unrest after verdict
Maryland National Guard spokesman Col. Charles S. Kohler said the guard staff are monitoring the situation in Baltimore using public information sources.
"The trials are definitely something that we're keeping a very close eye on," Kohler said. "We feel there could be the potential for people not to be satisfied with the verdict."
Kohler said National Guard officials have been meeting with the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police more regularly since April's unrest, when troops were deployed on the street. Officials are considering the best way guardsmen could be used in any future disturbance, Kohler said.
"The success that we had at the end of April is no reason for us to be relaxed in what we're doing," he said. "There's always ways you can look for improvement."
Gov. Hogan on possible unrest after verdict
Gov. Larry Hogan's homeland security director is in regular contact with the federal Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office to be prepared for any potential unrest, Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said. The governor's office also speaks daily with the Maryland State Police and the National Guard — and those agencies speak daily with the Baltimore Police and Davis, Mayer said.
When he visited Baltimore last week, Hogan said the city and state are prepared for any unrest.
"Everyone's concerned about the potential, but look: We have some great community leaders here who are trying to keep the peace and keep things from getting out of control," Hogan said last week.
Hogan said there's been better coordination and communication on public safety issues since April. "I guess the bottom line is we're hoping for the best but we're prepared for whatever might happen," the governor said during last week's visit.
Baltimore police commissioner on post-verdict
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis declined to discuss specifics of how his officers are preparing for possible demonstrations or protests.
"We are going to handle a protest like a protest and we view our role as a police department as one that keeps the peace during protests," Davis said. "That's why we're here: To keep the peace."
Asked if out-of-town protesters are expected, David said he did not know, but said he hopes Baltimore residents won't let "outsiders" define the reaction to a verdict in the Porter trial.
"What I expect is for Baltimore to talk about Baltimore," Davis said. "I expect the leaders in this city to lead this city, and I expect the community leaders, the faith leaders in the city to speak for our people. I think that's the healthiest thing possible."
Davis promoted changes he's made in the department, including additional training and equipment for officers and improved community relations efforts. He said the department is working with other police agencies, as well.
Leave for city police officers has not been canceled, as it was during April's unrest and during some of the pre-trial hearings this fall, said police spokesman T.J. Smith.
There have been some protests in recent months as the cases of the six officers moved through the court system. Since Porter's trial began Nov. 30, protests have been sporadic and peaceful.
Mayor says repeat of April's unrest following Porter verdict would be unacceptable
Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner urged residents to react "respectfully" when a verdict is reached in the trial of Officer William Porter.
As the end of the trial looms, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for a clam reaction, whether Porter is convicted or acquitted.
"We need everyone in our city to respect the judicial process," Rawlings-Blake said during a press conference at Baltimore Police headquarters downtown.
Rawlings-Blake is hoping to avoid a repeat of April's unrest following Gray's death. On the day of Gray's funeral, parts of the city erupted in rioting, looting and arson, causing extensive damage and spurring a city-wide curfew and the activation of the Maryland National Guard. Two days earlier, protests also turned violent, and fans were kept inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards while police attempted to quell the disturbance outside.
Such actions are not acceptable, Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday as she was flanked by top police brass, elected officials and community activists.
"All of us today agree the unrest of last spring is unacceptable. Baltimore has a chance to show the country how we can be heard peacefully, respectfully and effectively," Rawlings-Blake said.
"It's time to turn the page," said Carmichael "Stokey" Cannady, a community activist who joined the major. "I know justice will prevail in the case at hand."
Prosecutors question Porter on the stand
On cross examination, Schatzow questioned Porter about the details of his testimony on the stand and how they compared to his statement to police investigators days after Gray's arrest -- trying to point out inconsistencies between the two.
Porter was at times argumentative with Schatzow. When Schatzow went through a written transcript of Porter's initial statement, for example, Porter repeatedly told him that he was skipping over portions.
Schatzow asked Porter why he said on the stand that when he helped Gray off the floor of the van at the fourth stop, Gray assisted him -- using his legs -- when he hadn't told police investigators that.
Porter said he was elaborating on his comments. When he was being interviewed by the investigators, he said, he thought he was a just a witness, not a suspect. "I didn't know I needed to defend myself," Porter said.
At one point, Schatzow asked Porter whether he was trying to protect his fellow officers when he gave his initial statement to investigators, bringing up Porter's previous mention of a "stop snitching" culture among criminals on Baltimore's streets.
"Is that culture in the Baltimore Police Department?" Schatzow said.
"Absolutely not," Porter said. "I'm actually offended that you would say something like that."