Defense rests in Porter trial, closing arguments set for Monday

The defense rested its case Friday in the trial of Officer William Porter after calling a handful of character witnesses and a Baltimore Police official who testified concerning the department's policies.

Prosecutors will start the trial's final phase on Monday morning when the begin closing arguments.

On Friday, Judge Barry Williams dismissed the jury at midday but spent the afternoon haggling with attorneys from both sides over the details of jury instructions.

The morning's testimony from Capt. Justin Reynolds yet again contrasted the letter of department policy with the day-to-day practices of officers in the field.

A substantial portion of the state's case is based on a policy issued a few days before the death of Freddie Gray which mandated that all detainees be seat-belted in transport vans.

Prosecutors say Porter was negligent and broke the policy by not seat-belting Freddie Gray, who was found with a broken neck at the end of a van ride to Western District headquarters.

Porter and other officers have testified that seat-belting arrestees was simply not the practice of officers in the field, and that they learned to do their job by following the example of other officers, not formal training or written rules.  

Reynolds, a former training officer who worked at a number of posts throughout the city during his 14 years on active duty, went so far as to disparage the department's policies, known as general orders, as too numerous and complex to be consistently followed.

"There's general orders you have to violate to do your job," Reynolds told defense lawyers, citing a directive to be polite and refrain from cursing that he said wouldn't be appropriate when confronting a suspect with a gun.

Reynolds referred to the department's policies as guidelines that must be supplemented "with the exercise of good judgment and common sense."

"Common sense prevails over everything else," Reynolds said.

During Reynolds' testimony, defense lawyers took the opportunity, as they have throughout the trial, to pin responsibility for Gray's well-being on the transport van's driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, who faces the most serious charges in connection with Gray's death, including second-degree depraved-heart murder.

They also raised again the fact that Porter told his supervisor, Sgt. Alicia White, that Gray would have to be taken to the hospital rather than Central Booking, because he was asking for medical attention. Defense attorneys implied that Porter had done as much as could be expected at that point, and that White then became responsible for the decision to send Gray to Western District headquarters rather than directly to Bon Secours Hospital.

Reynolds told the court that, at the point where Goodson sought Porter's assistance to check on Gray during a stop on Druid Hill Avenue, Porter demonstrated a more-than-average level of attentiveness to Gray's well-being, perhaps based on having known the detainee from his work in and around Gilmor Homes.

Reynolds said that Porter "actually goes beyond what many officers would have done" at that point.

The defense closed its case with an appearance by Porter's mother, Helena Porter, as a character witness.

"He's a nice guy, an honest guy," Helena Porter told the court.

"He's the peacemaker in whatever situation goes down," she said.

On cross-examination prosecutors had only one question for the defendant's mother and the other three character witnesses called this morning: whether they had had the opportunity to observe Porter's behavior when he was working in the streets of West Baltimore. None of them had.

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