Neill Franklin Testifies in Trial of Third Officer in Freddie Gray Case
TRNN Replay: After 33-year law enforcement veteran Neill Franklin appears as a prosecution witness in the trial of Officer Goodson, we bring you our interview with him during the trial of William Porter
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore, where day nine of the trial of trial of Officer William Porter has just wrapped up. Porter is facing four counts, including manslaughter, for not seatbelting Freddie Gray and providing him prompt medical attention. In his defense, Porter has said he did the best he could for Freddie Gray, and he blamed the culture of policing, largely inadequate training and resources for his actions.
Well, now joining us to discuss this is Neil Franklin. Neil is a 35-year police veteran, including a former chief trainer for the Baltimore police department. Thanks so much for joining us again, Neil.
NEIL FRANKLIN: Thank you for having me.
NOOR: So how do you respond to the defense’s arguments in this case? They made a pretty strong argument that the Baltimore police department is understaffed, under-resourced. Porter said he hadn’t read the general order requiring all passengers to be seatbelted. That order came out on April 9. Freddie Gray was arrested on April 12. He said the app wasn’t working on his phone. The computers in the Western district where he worked, half of them were broken.
FRANKLIN: This is basic training. Whether it’s a recent general order or not. It’s not just basic training, it’s common sense. It’s common sense, because the seat belts are in there. And when you look into one of these vans, it’s not like they’re padded. It’s metal. The entire inside of this thing is metal. And you’re operating that van here in city traffic, stop and go. Every police officer knows that someone in the back of that van, if they’re not seatbelted in, they’re, because of the inertia from making turns, from making starts, from making stops, they’re going to be thrown all over the inside of that van.
NOOR: Right. So the prosecution made that case, but in his defense William Porter presented several police officers who’ve made hundreds of arrests, and they said not once did they witness a suspect that was seatbelted in the back of a wagon.
FRANKLIN: That doesn’t make it right, you know, not to seatbelt someone in because of what others have done. And that, that is what creates a culture that is problematic. At the end of the day your responsibility, whether you are the driver, whether you are the person who put someone into that van, and it is your responsibility to seatbelt them in, to make sure that they’re secure. It’s your responsibility, once you place handcuffs on one, on someone, to ensure their safety, their wellbeing, throughout the rest of that custody.
NOOR: And so part of the defense strategy that we will likely see in all these six trials is shifting the blame to other officers. So in his defense Porter said he was not the arresting officer, and he was not the driver of the wagon. So he said he did not have primary responsibility for the passenger’s safety.
FRANKLIN: Everyone has responsibility. If you put your hands on someone who is in custody, you have a responsibility. Even if you don’t, if you are watching what others do and they fail to do the right thing according to policy and law, it is still your responsibility to correct them. To make sure that things are done properly.
NOOR: But isn’t there some truth to Porter’s argument that–and he’s basically arguing that he’s become a scapegoat for these larger institutional problems.
FRANKLIN: Scapegoat? You know, people tend to try to put things on the, on the larger institutional problem. It is the individual acts that we’re talking about here right now that make it an institutional problem. So from the officers on the street, from the first line supervisors and sergeants and lieutenants, again, it’s everybody’s responsibility to–sometimes you have to correct this behavior. And it’s time for us to stop putting blame on other people and other things and other systems, especially when you are a public servant. Especially when you’re getting paid to do this work. You know what your training is, you know what your special orders indicate. Do it. Just do it. And stop blaming it on the culture.
NOOR: I wanted to get your response to some of the strongest testimony we’ve heard in defense of William Porter. It came today. It was Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo, 35-year veteran. He spent 18 years in Baltimore, 17 years in Charlottesville and other jurisdictions around the country. He came out in defense of William Porter. He said that Porter did all he could. He asked for medical help. And he didn’t seatbelt in Freddie Gray because he felt that he–he feared for his own safety, even though Freddie Gray was shackled and handcuffed.
FRANKLIN: I know Timmy Longo. I remember when he was here in Baltimore. And I find it–actually I’m kind of shocked behind that. Because if you fear for your safety, okay, how do you articulate that? What happened? What occurred to, to make you apprehensive putting the seat belt on? You know, did, did Freddie Gray knee you in the chin as you were making your first attempt to put the seat belt on? The second attempt? You at least have to make the attempt, you know, and then if something happens to put fear into you, as to making that attempt again, okay. Maybe then you can, can defend yourself on that.
But even then, you know, there is a way for someone to assist you. I know it’s a tight space. But there is a way for someone to assist you. It’s too important. You just can’t allow someone to be free in the back of that van, subjected to the inertia that’s created when that van is making turns and starts and stops. Especially if you’re handcuffed to the rear, and shackled. There’s absolutely no way that anyone in that condition can protect themselves from the inertia that’s generated.
NOOR: And that’s what, that is actually what defense and prosecutors agree was responsible for Freddie Gray’s death. His fatal injury, at least. And the defense is just saying it happened after Porter had moved him, and the prosecution is saying it happened after stop four when Porter had placed hands on him.
But for a moment, I want to step back from this particular case. I want to talk about the bigger story here. And the bigger story about the war on drugs, about poverty in Baltimore. And this case in many ways, it fully represents or exemplifies it, because both the defendant and the victim, they’re both sons of Baltimore. They’re African-American. Both from West Baltimore. And their lives collided because of the war on drugs. Now Porter is on trial. Freddie Gray is dead.
You–we talked about, a little bit about your background, but now you are the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
FRANKLIN: When you peel back not just the onion of this case, you know, and seeing what Porter has been charged with as a Baltimore police officer in enforcing these drug laws, and the officers, the bike officers who arrested Freddie Gray in the first place, you know, Freddie Gray had been arrested multiple times for drug possession, like many other black men in this community. It is the number one reason that the lives of police and young black men in this city–it’s the number one reason for their lives colliding, as with this particular case.
So we’re not just talking about this particular case when we peel back this onion, but we’re talking about many cases where this interaction between police and community becomes very, very problematic. Here the police are given a task to do that’s an impossible task, and enforcing these drug laws where nothing gets better, nothing improves. Whether it’s the violence generated from the drug trade, whether it’s, whether it’s the corruption that comes from it. Whether it’s the purity of drugs and the adulterated drugs that are on our streets. The amount of drugs that are on our streets. In fact, the kids are recruited into this–nothing improves from the war on drugs. And at the end of the day it creates this huge rift between police and community.
As we’re standing here talking right now, at multiple locations out in the city I guarantee you there are young black men being strip searched by our men and women in blue right in the middle of the street, on the sidewalk. Sitting on the curb. Being taken out of cars while the cars are being searched, time after time after time after time. And at the end of the day our police officers, because of what they’re forced to do, are treating everyone the same. You know, everyone has become a warrior in this, in this war on drugs. Whether it’s the police and the community, or the boys on the corner fighting each other. And everyone becomes your enemy.
NOOR: And so this case, and many others, like you’ve said, have put the spotlight on this. And a small and increasing number of former law enforcement officers are speaking out. But why have there been virtually, places like Maryland, at least, virtually no rollback of the drug war? What is the reason why it’s staying in place?
FRANKLIN: Well, I think a lot of it is still we have a lot of education to do. It’s still a political hot potato. Some refer to it as a red herring. You know, no one wants to touch it. The third rail.
But we are making progress. If not yet in Maryland, in other states around this country. And it’s just a matter of time before it gets here to Maryland. But I think Baltimore is primed for the change that needs to occur. And hopefully with this mayoral election campaign coming upon us, hopefully the citizens will ask the right questions of these candidates as it relates to the war on drugs and as it relates to these problems that it creates here in Baltimore City. What are you going to do about it, what is your plan in dealing with the war on drugs and rolling back this problem, and pushing drug enforcement and its, and these issues to the lowest priorities on our law enforcement list?
NOOR: I wanted to quickly follow up on a point I raised earlier. So in his defense William Porter said, and other officers, his co-workers have said, the police department here is under-resourced in fighting the war on drugs. There’s never enough officers. So is the answer more police?
FRANKLIN: That’s a, that’s a really good question. In fighting the war on drugs just about every police department in any major city across this country is understaffed. Doesn’t have the resources for handling that particular task. But if you end the war on drugs, if we push this to the lowest priority on our list, then we have more than enough people, men and women to do the job of protecting citizens from violent crime. Our focus needs to be first and foremost on violent crime, murders, rapes, robberies, crimes against our children, domestic violence. That’s where we should be focused.
And you know, we’ve really got to turn this corner on the war on drugs. And I think that we can do it here in Baltimore, despite the inaction from the federal government in changing these policies. So we need to do it ourselves right here and now.
NOOR: Neil Franklin, thanks so much for joining us.
FRANKLIN: Thanks for having me.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.