Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on April 12 and taken face-down in the back of a police van—handcuffed and shackled, but not in a seatbelt— to the police station. By the time he got there, half an hour later, he couldn’t breathe or walk, having sustained spinal injuries. He died April 19.
It’s unclear why Gray was arrested in the first place. He took off running when an officer made eye contact with him, the city said. Officers pursued—and arrested—him. They said they found a switchblade in his pocket, which is illegal under city code.
We don’t know why Gray ran, though he had been previously arrested on minor drugs charges. An investigation by the prosecutor’s office in Baltimore found police had no reason to detain Gray, and his arrest itself had been illegal. The knife that officers found in his possession wasn’t a switchblade, and hence legal, prosecutors said. Marilyn Mosby, the city’s chief prosecutor called Gray’s death a homicide in May, and announced criminal charges against six Baltimore Police Department officers, including Porter, involved in the arrest. A grand jury subsequently returned indictments against the six officers.
Porter is the first officer to be tried in the case. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office—and faced up to 25 years in prison if convicted of all those charges. He pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors say he didn’t put Gray in a seatbelt— in violation of the police department’s policy—and failed to call medical aid when it became clear Gray was injured.
At issue in the case was is an officer’s failure to act a crime?
During the trial, which began December 1, prosecutors alleged Porter denied Gray medical care though he was injured. The Baltimore Sun points out “the standards for winning such a case are higher than in civil court, where similar cases have landed.”
So while legal experts said it’s clear that police officers have a legal obligation to their prisoners, exactly what breaches of that responsibility amount to a crime remains a difficult question to answer.
They also alleged that Porter, by not securing Gray in a seatbelt, had violated department policy. But Gary Proctor, Porter’s defense attorney, contended that few officers actually followed the seatbelt procedure. He noted that Porter, a native of West Baltimore, checked on Gray at a later stop and helped to pull him up on to a bench—but did not fasten Gray’s seatbelt.
Porter himself told the court he didn’t call for medical help because there were no obvious signs of injuries on Gray. He then said he realized the extent of Gray’s injuries only on the van’s final stop. He said there was mucous around Gray’s nose and mouth, prompting him and another officer to put Gray in what he called a "lifesaving position” and waited until a medic arrived. And, he said, he didn’t out Gray in a seatbelt in part because he was afraid Gray would gain access to his gun.