Prosecutor says Baltimore officer could have saved man's life in seconds

All In Special Report: Back to Baltimore
All In Special Report: Back to Baltimore

(Reuters) - A Baltimore police officer charged with manslaughter in the death of a black detainee needed only a few seconds to save the man's life and changed his story about the death, a prosecutor said during closing arguments on Monday.

But a defense lawyer for Officer William Porter, charged in the death of Freddie Gray from a broken neck, told jurors that Porter had acted as any reasonable police officer would have. The high-profile case was expected to go to the jury later on Monday.

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Gray's death in April triggered rioting, arson and protests in the majority black city and fueled a U.S. debate on police tactics. Porter is the first of six officers, three of them black, to face trial.

Prosecutor Janice Bledsoe said that Porter, 26, could have prevented Gray's death in April by buckling his seat belt in a police van and calling for an ambulance when Gray said he needed help.

"Click - how long does it take to click a seat belt and click a radio and ask for a medic? Two seconds? Three seconds? Maybe four?" Bledsoe asked jurors in Baltimore City Circuit Court, holding a seat belt in her hands.

"Is two, three or maybe four seconds worth a life?"

See Porter and protesters outide court:

Porter, who is black, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. The charges against the other officers range from second-degree murder to misconduct in office.

Gray, 25, was arrested after fleeing from police. He was put in a transport van, shackled and handcuffed, but he was not secured by a seat belt despite department policy to do so.

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Bledsoe said that Porter had changed his story several times, especially when he denied that he had told an investigator that Gray had told him he could not breathe.

Defense lawyer Joseph Murtha said that medical experts for both sides had disputed at what point Gray suffered his injury. Officers could not be expected to call for medical assistance every time a detainee wanted help, he said.

"You are judging Officer Porter from a reasonable officer standard," he said. Murtha said prosecutors had played on city residents' fears by bringing the charges against Porter and the other officers.

Porter was a backup officer and present at five of six stops the van made with Gray. At one stop Gray told Porter he needed medical aid and Porter put him onto a van bench.

According to testimony, Porter told the van driver and a supervisor that Gray had asked for aid, but none was summoned.

To prove that Porter committed involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors must show that his conduct differed widely from what an officer reasonably would have done.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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