The mood in the courtroom Thursday during the testimony of Freddie Gray's best friend, Brandon Ross, 31, was heavy.
The room was silent and still after those present heard the screams and pleading from Ross and bystanders on the cellphone-video footage. It was a solemn reminder of the personal stakes of this case that has been thrust into the national spotlight. Ross was testifying in the trial of William Porter, the first officer to be tried in the death of Gray, who succumbed from injuries he sustained while in police custody. His death prompted days of civil unrest in Baltimore this past April.
Ross, a friend of Gray's "for over 10 years" who claimed that the 25-year-old was "like a brother to me," testified that he, Gray and a friend were walking toward the intersection of West North Avenue and North Mount Street on the morning of April 12 because Ross was going to meet someone for a carpentry job. Then, as they turned the corner, Gray took off running. The next time he saw Gray, he was in the custody of police and being tossed into a police van with handcuffs and leg shackles, which Ross describes as "hog-tied."
The first cellphone footage shown in court was a video taken by bystander Kevin Moore. That video has been shown on a loop on the news, with footage of Gray as his legs go limp and bike-patrol officers hold him on either side. This video, however, includes audio that the public hasn't heard. In it, a police officer has Gray on the ground, handcuffed; and while it's not shown on the video, Gray is allegedly hit with a stun gun repeatedly. It's difficult to distinguish who's speaking as a voice yells, "Why are they tasing him like that? Wondering why he can't use his legs? Don't worry, we recording this s—t."
As the audio played, some jurors were visibly shaken. Gray's mother, Gloria Darden, wiped her eyes quietly throughout Ross' testimony but began sobbing loudly by the end of the second grainy cellphone video, which wasn't as clear for viewing but had audio that captured the emotion of the moment. Ross can be heard on the video saying, "Hey, can we get a supervisor here, please!" He also repeatedly yells, "That's not cool!" A bystander on the video can be heard saying, presumably as Gray is put in the van, "You can hear him screaming and s—t."
After the second video played, Darden had to be helped out of the courtroom and Judge Barry Williams called a recess. Ross walked out of the courtroom crying, glaring at Porter, the defendant, as he walked past him.
Ross was the prosecution's witness. The prosecution was able to place Porter at the scene from the video. During cross-examination, defense attorney Gary Proctor questioned Ross: "Is there anywhere in that video where Porter lays a hand on Gray?"
"No," Ross answered after an objection by the prosecutor that was overruled.
"No further," Proctor said.
The jury viewed the van that Gray rode in, but the judge didn't allow the media or the public to see it.
Eight state witnesses testified, and more are expected to testify today.
The questions raised were, Whose responsibility is it to seat-belt an arrestee: the driver of the van? Any officer on the scene? The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove what Porter did not do, rather than to prove that he's guilty for what he did do.
Agent John Bilheimer, a police-academy instructor, when asked by defense attorney Joseph Murtha if the responsibility lies with the wagon operator, replied, "Yes."
Prosecutor Janice Bledsoe asked, "Is the wagon operator the only one responsible for the custody of an arrested individual?"
"No," Bilheimer responded.
When the prosecutor asked the last witness, Syreeta Teel, an internal-affairs officer assigned to investigate Gray's death, whether she as a police officer was required to call a medic if an arrestee asked for one—whether or not she believed he was faking an injury—she replied, "Yes." Teel will return to the stand Friday.