BALTIMORE A Maryland medical examiner twice told investigators that the death of black detainee Freddie Gray from a broken neck in a police van was an accident, a Baltimore detective testified on Thursday.
Taking the stand for the defence in the van driver's murder trial, Police Detective Dawnyell Taylor said Dr Carol Allan had contradicted her official report that Gray's death in April 2015 was a homicide.
"She said that it was a freakish accident, and that no human hands had caused his injury," she said as the defence for Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. began presenting its case in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
Goodson, 46, is accused of second-degree depraved heart murder, manslaughter and other charges. Gray's death triggered protests and rioting in Baltimore and fuelled a nationwide debate on police treatment of minorities.
Prosecutors have argued that Goodson caused Gray's death by giving him a "rough ride." But his lawyers say Gray caused his own injuries.
In a sometimes-testy exchange, prosecutor Michael Schatzow accused Taylor, whose investigation led to charges against Goodson and five other officers, of not sending progress notes to prosecutors about Allan's comments.
Taylor answered that she was initially not the lead detective but had noted everything later when it was typed up. Referring to another prosecutor in the Gray case, Janice Bledsoe, she said: "I had a problem with her integrity."
Schatzow responded that Bledsoe had made allegations about Taylor's own integrity. Judge Barry Williams, who is hearing the high-profile case in a bench trial, then called up both sides for a conference.
Gray, 25, was arrested for fleeing officers unprovoked. He was bundled into Goodson's van shackled and was not seat belted, a violation of department protocol.
Allan, an assistant medical examiner, has stood by her judgement that Gray's death was a homicide.
Another defence witness, Donta Allen, who was transported with Gray in the van but separated from him by a metal partition, said he recalled nothing about the ride.
"I don't know nothing," Allen, who is imprisoned for a probation violation, told defence lawyer Matthew Fraling.
Police have said Allen told investigators that Gray was thrashing around in the van. Allen has recanted that statement and said he only heard a faint tapping, according to court documents.
Goodson is the third officer to be tried in Gray's death. One of the earlier trials ended in a hung jury, while the other ended with an acquittal.
(Writing by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alan Crosby)
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