Prosecutors: Paddy wagon became Freddie Gray’s ‘casket on wheels’

The city of Baltimore braced for a verdict as closing arguments were made Monday in the first of six trials of police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray.

Officer William Porter faces manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges and could receive 25 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors described Porter as indifferent to Gray’s safety, repeatedly denying him medical care in the police wagon where his neck was broken after he was left handcuffed and shackled but unbuckled on the floor of the van.

Porter (pictured arriving at court last month) faces manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges and could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted

The wagon ‘became his casket on wheels’ after Porter failed to belt him to the bench or call for a medic after he was injured, prosecutor Janice Bledsoe said.

Gray was arrested on April 12 about seven city blocks from the station, and yet police stopped the van repeatedly along the way, turning the trip into a 45-minute ordeal.

‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ Bledsoe said.

‘Porter had the opportunity on four or five occasions to wield his power to save Freddie Gray. He abused his power. He failed his responsibility.’

The officer was present at five of the van’s six stops. Prosecutors said the 25-year-old Gray suffered the critical spinal injury during the van’s fourth stop.

Porter testified that he did nothing wrong to Gray, who was arrested after running from officers in his neighborhood.

‘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 during his testimony.

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, Caesar Goodson, was responsible for Gray’s safety and said Porter acted the way any reasonable officer would have.

Prosecutors said Goodson initially stopped because Gray was acting out inside the passenger compartment.

Officers bound him more tightly at the wrists, shackled his ankles and laid him on his stomach on the floor.

The van stopped three more times as officers checked on Gray. Prosecutors said he had already broken his neck by then.

Porter denied this, saying he wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms and appeared uninjured.

The van detoured to pick up another prisoner in a separate compartment before Gray finally arrived at the station in critical condition.

Prosecutors said Porter, who lifted Gray off the van floor and sat him on the seat at one point, is partly responsible because he ignored a departmental policy requiring officers to buckle prisoners in seat belts, and didn’t call for an ambulance when Gray indicated he needed medical aid.

Porter testified that he told Goodson to take him there, because while he still didn’t believe Gray was really hurt, he knew the jail would reject a prisoner claiming injury.

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.

Other witnesses also testified that Goodson was responsible for buckling Gray to the bench. He faces the most serious charge of the six officers: second-degree ‘depraved-heart’ murder.

Defense attorney Joseph Murtha said in his closing argument that the case against Porter is based on conjecture and speculation, not evidence.

Maryland Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan testified for the state that Gray’s neck was most likely broken between the second and fourth stops of a ride in a police van.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake urged citizens to continue with business as usual and respect the jury’s decision.

The city has also opened an emergency operations center and contacted outside law enforcement agencies to coordinate any necessary response.

The mayor said in a letter to community leaders that she has ‘no doubt’ city officials are prepared for anything.

Demonstrations were initially peaceful following the young black man’s death on April 19, a week after his arrest.

But unrest broke out on the day of his funeral, bringing a curfew and the National Guard to the streets, and fueling the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that has increased scrutiny of how police treat minorities.

Porter’s fate may influence the trials of the other officers and set the tone for the city’s healing.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis canceled leave for all officers through Friday, saying ‘the community has an expectation for us to be prepared for a variety of scenarios.’

The mayor has urged residents to remain calm.

‘Whatever the verdict, we need everyone in our city to respect the judicial process,’ Rawlings-Blake said.

‘We need everyone visiting our city to respect Baltimore.’

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