Another Acquittal in Baltimore

This might spell disaster for the prosecution's remaining cases--& careers

By Crawford Coates  |   Jun 23, 2016
Goodson, found not guilty, is surrounded by his lawyers. Judge Williams is on the bench. (Wm Hennessy/CourtRoomArt.com)

Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the van driver accused of giving Freddie Gray a fatal “rough ride” that ended his life, faced the most serious charges of the six officers charged in the case. This morning Circuit Judge Barry Williams acquitted Goodson, 46, of all seven charges, including second-degree depraved heart murder, manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office.

The acquittal throws the remaining three cases into jeopardy, all of whom face similar but lesser charges to Goodson.

Goodson, a 16-year veteran of the force and Field Training Officer (FTO) with the department, elected to have a bench trial, bypassing a jury and leaving his fate in the hands of Williams. Judge Williams is a former city prosecutor who also once investigated police misconduct for the Justice Department.

Williamson spoke specifically about the timeline of Gray’s injuries in announcing his decision. He said that the prosecutors “failed to meet its burden” to present evidence that backed their version of events.

The prosecutors were dogged repeatedly in the case. Just yesterday it came to light that a parallel investigation into Gray’s murder purportedly requested by the prosecution and conducted by the Baltimore Sheriff’s Office never took place. The prosecution opened the case on June 9 asserting that the charge was “murder by failure to render prompt medical care” and then changed that to “murder by rough ride” mid-trial.

The testimony of Donta Allen dealt the prosecutors a huge blow. Allen was arrested and was on the other side of a thin metal divider from Gray in the van on the day that he died. Allen initially told police that Gray was hitting his head against the van, “trying to knock himself out.”

But in subsequent encounters with the media Allen contradicted that claim. When it was discovered by the judge that Allen had given an extensive proffer session with the police a year ago in which he corroborated his initial claims—potentially exculpatory evidence the prosecutors kept from the defense—Goodson’s attorneys sought to have the case thrown out.

Williams didn’t throw the case out and he didn’t allow the testimony as evidence. But he did dress down Chief Deputy Michael Schatzow and demand that all potentially exculpatory evidence be handed to the defense. “I’m not saying you did anything nefariously, I’m saying you don’t know what exculpatory means,” Williams said, according to the Baltimore Sun.

In the second police interview Allen had said that it was a “smooth ride” and that Gray “was banging his head against the metal, like he was trying to knock himself out or something.”

“My concern becomes what else is out there,” Williams said to Schatzow. “If your office doesn’t get that, I don’t know where we are at this point.”

The State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, has also come under withering criticism over what many believe was a rush to judgment and overcharging the officers for political reasons.

Hopefully the decision today brings much needed rest and reconciliation to beleaguered Baltimore.

Freddie Gray died on April 19, 2015, seven days after his arrest for having what police at the time claimed was an illegal switchblade. As news of his death spread, protests around Baltimore grew in size and intensity. By April 25, protests had fully given way to the riots in which approximately 300 businesses were damaged, 250 people arrested, and more than 60 buildings were burned. Businesses affected by the riots have only recently begun receiving moneys from the state’s Department of Community Development.

The next trial, of Lt. Brian Rice, who is charged with manslaughter, is scheduled to begin July 7. The other officers’ trial dates are: Miller (July 27), Porter (Sept. 6) and Sgt. Alicia White (Oct. 13). All the officers have pleaded not guilty.

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Crawford Coates

Crawford Coates

Crawford Coates is the author of Mindful Responder: The First Responder's Field Guide to Improved Resilience, Fulfillment, Presence, & Fitness--On & Off the Job and the publisher at Calibre Press.
Crawford Coates

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