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Goodson cleared of all charges in Freddie Gray’s death

Officer Caesar Goodson was acquitted Thursday of all charges against him in the police custody death of Freddie Gray.

Goodson, who drove the police van that transported Gray, faced the most serious charges in the case: second degree depraved heart murder, involuntary manslaughter, gross negligent manslaughter by vehicle, criminal negligent manslaughter by vehicle, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

The courtroom in Courthouse East was packed as Circuit Judge Barry Williams took nearly 45 minutes to read why he found Goodson not guilty on all seven charges.

Williams said the state did not prove that Officer William Porter told Goodson that Gray was in need of immediate medical care.  That testimony undermined the state’s assertion that Goodson had failed to seek treatment earlier as he should have.

Williams recalled Porter’s testimony during the trial that while Gray was lethargic and docile, he didn’t look like he was in medical distress.

Prosecutors argued it was obvious that Gray was in need of medical care.  But Williams said the type of injury Gray suffered would not be obvious to an average officer.

He said the court was presented with a number of “equally plausible scenarios.”  He discussed five that could have happened.

Williams said unlike a shooting, stabbing or a car accident, there were no observable injuries and that Gray’s fatal injury “manifested itself internally.”

The judge also addressed the prosecutors’ opening statement that Gray was subjected to a “rough ride,” where officers drive recklessly while transporting prisoners.

Williams said that the term “rough ride” is an inflammatory one “requiring definition” and then observable evidence.  He added no specific evidence was presented to prove the rough ride theory.

Credit Rachel Baye
A crowd of media and protesters stand outside of Courthouse East following the acquittal of Officer Caesar Goodson.

As the verdict was read, city State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby lowered her head at times.  Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow was writing notes and Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe sat back in her chair.

This was the state’s third of six trials against the officers charged last year in Freddie Gray’s death from a fatal broken neck.

The first trial against Officer William Porter ended last December in a hung jury.  He is to be re-tried in September.

In the second trial, Officer Edward Nero was acquitted of all of the charges by Judge Williams last May.

Defense Attorney Warren Brown, who has watched the trial, said he is not surprised that Williams acquitted Goodson.

“The judge voiced his skepticism even in the motion on the judgment of acquittal, he just didn’t see evidence of a rough ride,” Brown said. “He didn’t see evidence of a depraved heart. And it was a stretch right from the beginning.”

Brown also notes that Williams, an African-American, used to prosecute police officers for the federal government before being appointed to the Maryland bench in 2005.  And added there couldn’t have been a fairer person to adjudicate the case.

“Throughout his opinion, he notably mentioned over and over that the state had failed to present evidence to support their contention.  And so, therefore, it’s easy to understand how he could come to this decision,” Brown added.

Former city prosecutor Warren Alperstein was not surprised either.  He said Williams gave a preview during closing arguments when he pressed prosecutors over their rough ride theory.

“It was a little bit of a foreshadowing, and ultimately Judge Williams cleared that up today, making it abundantly obvious that he didn’t buy the state’s arguments that there was rough ride, said Alperstein.

Outside of the courthouse, a smattering of protesters chanted minutes before the verdict was announced.   But when the verdict came, many said they knew what to expect.

Baltimore resident Justin Sanders was among them.

“I predicted this, and I think so did everybody, because this is what the system is designed to do. It’s not designed to favor an oppressed minority over a security force. It’s designed to get the security force off,” said Sanders.

Protestors like Joshua Beasley, of Glen Burnie, decried what he a rigged called system that gives police freedoms they don’t feel like they have themselves.

“It’s rigged for them. It’s made for them to win. It’s made for them to not get in trouble for nothing they do to us,” Beasley said

Credit Rachel Baye
Angel Selah said her black and white face makeup represented a dividing line between Baltimore's black and white residents. She added the city shouldn't bother going through the trials of the remaining four officers charged in Freddie Gray's death.

Harry Fitzgerald, of Park Heights, said the verdict was particularly sad for him because he could relate to Freddie Gray’s experience.

“I’ve been on a rough ride myself.  You get in the back of that paddy wagon; I’ve never been seat belted in, said Fitzgerald.  “And they just drive like maniacs.”

Kamal KG Dorchy said he, too, could relate.  He said he spent 15 years in prison for an armed robbery.  Given his experiences with police, Gray’s experience could have been his.

“I grew up as a kid spending summertime in the Gilmor projects.  So that could have easily been me,” he said.  “It’s a Baltimore city police thing, and they hate us just as much as we hate them.”

Dorchy said that not only was he surprised at Williams’ verdict in Goodson’s case, but he also expects the rest of the police officers facing trial following Gray’s death will be acquitted, as well.

“I think all of the officers should be exonerated, based on what the medical examiner said.  If the ME says nothing was wrong with him, then that’s basically what the state’s attorney has to go with, and that’s the evidence that they have to present.”

His companion, Angel Selah, called Gray’s death a modern-day lynching. She had a black bag strap tied around her neck, which she used to fake her own hanging. Her face bore black and white makeup which she said represented a dividing line between Baltimore’s black and white residents.

Selah said the city shouldn’t bother going through with the other trials “because they already made the decision before they even walk into that court.”

NAACP President Cornel William Brooks called Gray’s death and Goodson’s acquittal tragedies.  But the real tragedy, he said, is the longstanding tension between police and Baltimore’s black communities.

“The verdict of the community, relative to their police department, is a verdict of guilty. That it is guilty of not engaging in reform,” Brooks said. “Guilty of having a long history of rough rides; guilty of having this chasm of distrust between the police department and the community.”

Del. Curt Anderson, the head of Baltimore’s delegation in the Maryland House of Delegates, said Goodson’s trial and the trials of the other officers involved in Gray’s death showed that the justice system works.

“They had a fair and impartial judge listen to the facts, and the judge came to the conclusion that the state had not presented enough evidence to find him guilty,” Anderson said.  “Basically that's the definition of what justice is in our criminal justice system."

City Fraternal Order of Police President Gene Ryan said his group is “very pleased and extremely grateful” that Goodson was acquitted.

Ryan also wants State’s Attorney Mosby to drop the charges against the remaining four officers; Lt. Brian Rice – whose trial is scheduled for next month, Officer Garrett Miller, Officer Porter and Sgt. Alicia White; calling the prosecution “malicious.”

“We are more than certain that they too will be found to be without guilt,” he said.  “To continue this travesty is an insult to the tax paying citizens of Baltimore who at the end of the day bear the full burden of the enormous cost of these trials that have no merit and continue to divide our city.”

Ryan accused Mosby of playing politics with police; making it hard for officers to do their jobs.

Because of Judge Williams’ gag order, Mosby, prosecutors, Goodson, nor defense attorneys have not offered any formal reactions to the case.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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