By Donna Owens
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A Baltimore policeman charged with manslaughter in the death of a 25-year-old black man told investigators the man had asked for medical assistance while he was in a police van, according to a taped interview played at the officer's trial on Friday.
One of the points at issue in the case of Freddie Gray, who died from an injury sustained while he was in the van, is if Gray asked police for help and his request was disregarded.
Officer William Porter, 26, said in the interview played in Baltimore City Circuit Court that he passed along Gray's request for help to the driver of the van and his superior.
Medical assistance was not called until the van reached a police station, the sixth stop it made with Gray inside.
Porter told police investigators five days after Gray's April 12 arrest that he had helped Gray onto the bench of the van while Gray was shackled and handcuffed.
"I asked him multiple times, 'What is wrong with you? Why do you need a medic?'" Porter said in the taped interview. "And he just said `I need a medic.'"
A detective in the case, Syreeta Teel, testified that Porter told her in a telephone conversation three days after the arrest that Gray had asked for assistance while in the van.
Gray had not been secured in the van by a seat belt. Prosecutors have contended that Porter ignored Gray's request for medical assistance and failed to secure him in the van in violation of police protocol.
Defense lawyers have argued that Porter had no responsibility to strap in Gray and that Gray was known for faking illness in previous brushes with the law and had shown no signs of illness or injury the day he was arrested.
Gray, who was arrested for fleeing from an officer and possessing a knife, died of a spinal injury that prosecutors have likened to what would be suffered by a diver going into a shallow pool.
Maryland Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan testified that Gray's spine was "functionally severed."
Porter, also charged with second-degree assault and misconduct, is one of three black officers charged in the case. He is the first of six officers to be tried over Gray's death, which triggered riots and intensified a U.S. debate on the use of excessive force by police, especially against black men.
Porter could be sentenced to more than 25 years in prison if convicted on all counts. The other officers face charges ranging from misconduct to second-degree murder for the van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson.
On Thursday, prosecutors showed a video of Gray's arrest taken by a bystander in which Gray was screaming and people were yelling at police. It reduced his mother and other relatives in the courtroom to tears.
Another video of a second van stop in which Gray was placed in leg shackles was taken by his friend Brandon Ross. Ross broke down on the witness stand on Thursday as he said officers grabbed Gray by the wrists and ankles and "threw him into the paddy wagon ... It was like they hog tied him."
(Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Toni Reinhold)