By Ian Simpson
(Reuters) – Trial begins on Monday for a Baltimore police officer charged in the death of a black man from an injury he suffered while in police custody that triggered rioting & protests & fueled a U.S. debate on police brutality.
Officer William Porter, 26, is the first of six officers scheduled for separate trials in Baltimore City Circuit Court for the death in April of Freddie Gray.
p> Trial will commence with jury selection. Judge Barry Williams last week ordered the identities of jurors to be shielded to keep them from facing outside pressure.
Gray, 25, died from a spinal injury suffered in the back of a police transport van after he was taken into custody. Porter is accused of ignoring Gray's requests for medical aid & not putting a seatbelt on him, even though he was shackled & handcuffed.
Porter faces charges of second-degree assault, manslaughter, misconduct in office & reckless endangerment. If convicted on all counts he could face more than 25 years in prison.
Officer William G. Porter is pictured in this undated booking photo provided by the Baltimore Police …
The other officers are charged with offenses ranging from second-degree murder for van driver Officer Caesar Goodson to misconduct.
Protests, rioting & looting flared in the largely black city after Gray's death, & National Guard troops were sent in & a curfew imposed to restore order. Gray's death added fuel to a national debate on police tactics & treatment of minorities.
Prosecutors have said they want Porter to testify first so they can use him as a potential witness against Goodson & Sergeant Alicia White.
Porter's lawyers have said in court papers that he was ready to testify in his own defense. Three of the six officers, including Porter, are black, & three are white.
David Jaros, a University of Baltimore associate law professor, said prosecutors face a tough challenge in convicting Porter & the other officers.
Police are normally reluctant to testify against other officers & judges & juries tend to acquit in misconduct cases, he said. Prosecutors moreover will have to show that a reasonable person would have tried to obtain Gray medical aid & that Porter failed to do so.
"I keep waiting for, if not a smoking gun, at least a warm weapon to reveal itself," he said.
Starting dates for the other trials are from Jan. 6 to March 9. Baltimore agreed in September to pay a $6.4 million civil settlement to Gray's family.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)
Society & CultureCrime & Justicepolice brutalityBaltimoreFreddie GrayBaltimore City Circuit Court