BALTIMORE — William Porter told investigators that as soon as Freddie Gray indicated he wanted to go to the hospital, the officer intended to take him there, even though he wasn't convinced Gray was truly injured but instead exhausted from kicking in the back of the transport van and feigning distress to avoid jail.
On Friday, jurors for the first time heard from Porter in his own words about what happened April 12, when Gray was arrested, handcuffed and placed head-first into the van, where he suffered the spinal cord injury that killed him.
Porter faces manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges. Prosecutors say Porter ignored his training and department policies requiring officers to call a medic for prisoners who request one, and was criminally negligent for failing to buckle Gray into a seat belt. But Porter's story, told in statements to police investigators, paints a different picture of the officer's actions and intentions: instead of an ambivalent officer who disregarded a prisoner's cries, Porter says he planned to take Gray to the hospital but, because he didn't see any signs of injury, didn't think it was an emergency.
Porter told investigators that when he opened the van's doors to check on Gray during the fourth stop on a nearly 45-minute ride from where Gray was arrested to the Western District station house, where he was found unresponsive, Gray was listless and lethargic, but didn't exhibit outward signs of injury.
"You couldn't tell he was hurt in any way, shape or form," Porter said in his nearly hour-long videotaped statement, played Friday in court.
Porter told investigators that Gray never asked for medical attention, but when Porter offered to call a medic and Gray said yes, Porter and van driver Caesar Goodson agreed he should be taken to the hospital. They didn't call a medic to the scene, Porter said.
"We had a transport vehicle and medics don't really want to transport our prisoners for us if we have a vehicle," Porter said.
The majority of the state's case against Porter centers around the van's fourth stop. Prosecutors say it was there that Porter ignored Gray's complaints that he couldn't breathe, and his repeated cries for medical aid; instead of calling for an ambulance, which he could have done by pressing a button on a radio clipped to his uniform, Porter picked Gray up off the floor of the wagon and sat him on a bench.
Porter said Gray never specifically asked for a medic, and that it was he who initially offered to take the man to the hospital, even though Porter believed Gray was lying about being injured.
"He never said he needed a medic, he just said, 'Help me up,'" Porter said on the video.
But according to Gray's autopsy report, entered into evidence Friday as assistant medical examiner Dr. Carol Allan took the stand, by that time Gray was already injured.
"At the 4th stop, Mr. Gray was displaying symptoms of a high spinal cord injury; difficulties in breathing and movement. The type of fracture/dislocation documented in imaging studies on admission is a high-energy injury most often caused by abrupt deceleration of a rotated head on a hyperflexed neck, such as seen in shallow water diving incidents," the report read. Allan testified the injury could have been exacerbated throughout the van ride. Gray's death was ruled a homicide.
Porter said in his statement that he had reason to doubt Gray's claims of distress. He told investigators he knew of Gray from around the neighborhood and Gray was someone who often made ruckus during arrests.
Porter came upon the arrest scene after he'd been called to a location a block or so away to search for two men. He walked toward where Gray was arrested, and heard screaming. By the time he arrived, Gray was in the van. But Porter came upon the wagon again during its second stop a couple of blocks away, when the arresting officers placed Gray in leg shackles and slid him back into the wagon, head-first and on his belly. Gray was kicking and flailing inside, Porter said.
"I could hear him banging around the wagon," Porter said. "I could see the wagon shaking."
By the time Porter met the van at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street, Gray had calmed down.
"It appeared to be an adrenaline dump," Porter said. "When you get tired and lethargic after you're kicking around."
"I said, 'What's up, dude?' He says, 'Help me, get me up,'" Porter said. The officer told investigators he propped Gray into a sitting position on a bench. He said he didn't buckle Gray in because "these wagons are very small," making it difficult to get in and "ask him nicely to sit up so you can buckle him."
Porter said Goodson agreed to take Gray to a hospital, but then responded to a call that would be the van's fifth stop, to pick up another prisoner.
Porter said Gray was still listless, and when he asked again if he needed a medic, Gray responded in the affirmative. Porter told his supervisor, Sgt. Alicia White, who also faces manslaughter and other charges, that Gray needed to go to a hospital and she assigned Porter to that detail. But first, Goodson had to drop off the second prisoner at the station house. By the time the van reached that destination, Gray was unconscious.
Porter said he opened a van door and saw Gray unresponsive. He pulled Gray from the van and tried with Officer Zachary Novak to revive him with a "sternum rub," a technique intended to elicit a pain response. Porter said that when that didn't work, Novak said, "Oh, s---, we need to call for a medic," and an ambulance was summoned.
The trial will resume Monday with more testimony by the medical examiner.