The trial of six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray took a more dramatic turn on Tuesday, with the judge ruling that statements by two of the officers to internal investigators would be admissible.
On Tuesday, the six officers appeared before Judge Barry Williams, who ruled that statements by Officer William Porter and Sgt. Alicia White were made voluntarily to investigators examining the death of Mr. Gray, who prosecutors say sustained a spinal cord injury that proved fatal during police transport.
Three other officers charged in the case – Lt. Brian Rice and Officers Garrett Miller and Edward Nero also agreed to drop motions filed to suppress their statements to investigators, meaning that five of the officers statements will be considered during the trial.
"Sergeant White had the opportunity to say no," Judge Williams said, according to Reuters. A second day of the hearing was cancelled, with the judge also instituting a gag order forbidding defense lawyers and prosecutors to speak publicly about the trial.
Caesar Goodson, who drove the van that transported Gray, was the only officer who declined to give a statement. He faces the most serious charge in the case, second-degree depraved-heart murder, which is imposed in cases where the accused shows “reckless disregard” for a victim’s life.
Since April, the death of Gray, who was black, has inflamed already-fragile tensions between police and minority communities in Baltimore, sparking riots and protests against harsh police actions such as the alleged “rough ride” practice of transporting people in police custody without a seatbelt or other safety restraint.
Sergeant White, Officer Goodson and Officer Porter are black, while Lieutenant Rice and Officers Miller and Nero are white. All six officers face charges of assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office, while Porter, Rice, White and Goodson are also facing charges of manslaughter.
Perhaps in an effort to discover just what went on in the van ride that claimed Gray’s life, the six officers are being tried separately, with Porter’s trial beginning first on Nov. 30. The last one is set to begin on March 9.
Policing practices are at the heart of the case, with the city of Baltimore approving a $6.4 million settlement to Gray’s family on Sept. 9, with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake saying that she hoped the settlement would provide ”some measure of closure to his family and to his friends.”
The city has said that the settlement does not constitute an admission of liability in Gray’s death, sparking a debate. Police union officials argue the settlement could threaten the officers’ ability to receive a fair trial, while justice reform advocates wonder whether the settlement will truly reform aggressive policing practices in cities like Baltimore.
But the fact that the officers are being tried separately will likely have an impact, Reuters notes. Prosecutors have said that Porter, who goes on trial first, is a key witness against Goodson and White. The Baltimore Sun has previously reported that an internal police review showed that Porter told Goodson, the van’s driver, that Gray appeared to need medical assistance, but none was provided at the time.
This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.