Now that Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson, Jr. has been acquitted of all charges involving the death of Freddie Gray, weaknesses in the case against the officers accused in the case are becoming more evident.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby brought the charges against the six police officers last year which came as the city was reeling from protest and disruption commonly referred to locally as the “The Uprising.”
But as the trials progressed, the result has so far not been favorable to her. The first, involving Officer William Porter, resulted in a hung jury. The second, involving Officer Edward Nero, failed to convict him.
Those watching the trials feel that after Mosby, seen by many as a savior to the city, has not been able to win a conviction after now two acquittals and a hung jury, has an uphill climb pertaining to the remaining trials.
“On the one hand there is an argument to be made that if you get can’t secure a conviction against Officer Goodson…who would have had the highest duty and obligation to secure emergency medical help for Freddie Gray,” said defense attorney, Warren Alperstein, who has represented police officers in the past, but did not in this trial. “Then you are going to have an impossible time of securing a conviction against any of the other officers who are charged under that same theory,”
Like Nero’s trial, Goodson’s opting for a bench trial turned out to be the most beneficial decision for him, given the case presented to the court.
The 46-year-old officer was accused of second degree “depraved heart” murder, meaning that he knew that his behavior was risky, but exhibited indifference to the value of human life. He was the only one of the six officers accused in Gray’s death with such a serious charge. He was the driver of the van in which Gray was placed after his arrest. He sustained multiple injuries, including severe spinal injuries, while riding in the van and died a week later.
The clarity provided in Judge Barry Williams’ verdict played out in multiple scenarios as he read his decision. The prosecution decided to use the term “rough ride” in Goodson’s trial, referring to bumpy transportation given to Gray after his arrest, which Mosby said eventually caused his death. But she did not prove that Goodson intentionally injured his passenger.
Regarding the failure ensure Gray’s safety as being negligent, Judge Williams noted, despite the fact the prisoner called for a medic and he was “calm and lethargic.” The medical examiner noted the injuries he sustained were internal in nature. There were no outward signs of trauma such as blood, lacerations, or other indicators that treatment was needed. Williams said the driver couldn’t have known about his internal problems.
Through the trial, attorneys constantly asked “what would a reasonable officer do?” Williams agreed that failing to seat belt a prisoner in the back of van is a violation of general orders, but he did not see it rising to a criminal act. “The prosecution has not met the burden of proof,” said Williams.
Finally, despite video showing Goodson’s van running a stop sign and making a u-turn, Williams concluded “he wasn’t reckless or speeding.”
“That’s part of the problem for the State,” said defense attorney Warren Brown, who was not connected to this case. They embellished these charges. Once to you have these huge charges you’ve got to have evidence to support it.”
In the courtroom following the sentence, there was a scene of joy for Goodson. He had endured a year of legal limbo and had faced up to 30 years in prison. He was hugged by fellow officers, lawyers and his family, who watched the ordeal unfold. He will walk out of court a free man but will face an internal police review of his actions.
Mosby on the other hand must still face the remaining trials. Porter is scheduled for a retrial that begins in September. Three other officers, Lt. Brian Rice, and Sgt. Alicia White, both charged with manslaughter; and Officer Garrett Miller, charged with assault are all scheduled for trial in July and October. Meanwhile, Porter and White are suing Mosby for invasion of privacy and defamation.