Baltimore officer faces pretrial hearing over black man's death

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 24, 2015 7:02 AM

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - A Baltimore judge will hear pretrial motions on Tuesday for a police officer charged in the death of a black man from an injury while in custody, in an incident that triggered protests and rioting.

Officer William Porter, 26, is the first of six Baltimore officers to face trial separately over the death of Freddie Gray in April. His trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court is scheduled to start on Nov. 30.

Motions on which Judge Barry Williams could rule include a defense request to drop a second-degree assault charge against Porter. Prosecutors also want to bar the defense from bringing up Gray's previous encounters with police.

Gray, 25, died from a spinal injury suffered in the back of

a police transport van following an arrest, sparking protests, rioting and looting in the largely black city. It also fueled a U.S. debate on police treatment of minorities.

Police bundled Gray into the van while shackled and handcuffed. He was not placed in a seat belt and officers ignored his request for medical aid.

In a court filing, Porter's attorneys Joseph Murtha and Gary Proctor asked Williams to drop the assault charge because it "constitutes a legally unfounded theory of criminal prosecution." Prosecutors have contended that failure to belt in Gray was assault.

Porter also is accused of manslaughter, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. Charges against the other officers range from second-degree murder to misconduct.

Three of the officers, including Porter, are black, and three are white.

Prosecutors have asked for permission to let jurors see the inside of the police van. The defense also is seeking to exclude videos that area residents shot of Gray's arrest.

Williams could rule on Tuesday or issue his decisions when the trial begins.

Starting dates for the other trials run from Jan. 6 to March 9.

Baltimore agreed in September to pay a $6.4 million civil settlement to Gray's family.

There has been an upsurge of killings in Baltimore since the April unrest, with homicides this year topping 300 for the first time since 1999.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)