Freddie Gray case: Police driver not guilty on all charges

Baltimore awaits verdict in police van driver murder trial

The Baltimore police officer who drove the van in which Freddie Gray was fatally injured past year has been acquitted of all charges, the Associated Press reported on Thursday, June 23.

During opening statements, prosecutors for the first time accused Goodson of giving Gray a “rough ride”, intentionally leaving him unbuckled “to bounce him around in the back of the van”.

Of the six officers charged in the Gray case, Goodson faced the most serious charges: second-degree murder, manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.

In a closely watched bench trial, Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams on Thursday found Officer Caesar Goodson Jr.

Officer Caesar Goodson, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, arrives at a courthouse before receiving a verdict in his trial in Baltimore, Thursday, June 23, 2016.

Nero and Officer Garrett Miller, who also faces charges in the case, were reportedly present in the courtroom when Williams released his verdict.

The betrayal of the symbiotic relationship police and prosecutors maintain in most cities has been particularly unwelcome in Baltimore, where murders reached a 40-year high last year and some neighborhoods have yet to recover from the riots that followed Gray’s death. He was bundled into Goodson’s van shackled and not secured with a seat belt inside the van, a violation of police procedure. The police investigation was anything but cursory – we know because Sun reporter Justin George was in the room for most of it – and to suggest it was a sham impugns the integrity of the 30 officers involved, up to and including Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

In rendering his verdict, Williams said prosecutors did not back their theories with evidence and did not prove the case.

In closing arguments, state prosecutors accused Goodson of criminal negligence.

Even before the case went to Williams for a verdict, the judge appeared skeptical of the second-degree depraved-heart murder charge. While being grilled by the defense, former Baltimore City police commander Stanford Franklin couldn’t say for sure that the driver gave Gray a rough ride. Officer Edward M. Nero was acquitted of all counts in May.

Prosecutors said Gray was left unprotected and that belts would have prevented him from slamming into the vehicle’s metal walls. A retrial for Porter is scheduled for September.

His death inflamed nationwide debate about race and law enforcement, and it sparked days of violent protests in Baltimore that prompted Gov. Larry Hogan to call in the National Guard. He questioned the theory that Goodson gave Gray a “rough ride”, challenging prosecutors to show him evidence.

Warren Brown, a Baltimore attorney who observed much of the trial, said the state’s case amounted to “this was a tragedy and so therefore someone should be held responsible, but that’s just not the way it works”. She added: “They said he created the risk to his life by standing up in the van instead of staying on the floor where officers had placed him”. He said Judge Williams did “a commendable job” focusing on the facts of the case and filtering out what must have been enormous pressure to find Goodson guilty.

All the officers but Goodson have filed defamation lawsuits against Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Maj.

But the case hasn’t fit quite so neatly into the American narrative of white authorities imposing justice unfairly on black people.

Bicycle officers arrested Gray, 25, on April 12, 2015, after he caught their eye and ran.

The prosecution painted Goodson as one of the worst protagonists in Gray’s death.

There has been no comment from Mosby’s office.

It could take much longer to fix the tense and uneasy relationship between Baltimore’s prosecutors and police, now that they’ve traded accusations of sabotage, misconduct and dirty dealings during the third trial of an officer in the death of Freddie Gray.