Caesar Goodson, the third Baltimore officer to go to trial for the death of Freddie Gray and the person charged with the most serious offenses, was found not guilty of second-degree depraved heart murder, reckless endangerment, second-degree assault, and manslaughter on Thursday morning. The verdict was handed down by Judge Barry Williams, the same judge who cleared Officer Edward Nero of second-degree assault and reckless endangerment in May.
When Gray suffered a fatal spinal injury in the back of a police van last year, his death put a spotlight on police brutality in Baltimore, as well as illegal “rough rides” that happen regularly in the city. During those rides, officers put handcuffed people in police vehicles without buckling them in, and drive recklessly around the city. Six officers were implicated in Gray’s death, but Caesar Goodson’s role as the van driver during the ride that killed the 25-year-old earned him the harshest charges from State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office.
Gray was thrown about the police van following a violent arrest that left him unable to walk on his own. On the ride to the booking station, Goodson made five stops and Gray was repeatedly denied help. During the third stop, Goodson peered into the van and called for backup, but reportedly failed to explain why an additional officer was necessary. According to the autopsy report, Goodson “opened the doors and observed Mr. Gray lying belly down on the floor with his head facing the cabin compartment, and reportedly he was asking for help, saying he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get up, and needed a medic,” at the fourth stop. Prior to that stop, Goodson sat Gray back on the bench and continued driving. None of his colleagues buckled the seatbelt or made the decision to get medics involved until the van’s final stop.
In her final autopsy report, the medical examiner Carol H. Allan called Gray’s death a homicide, which she echoed in court. “I had an open mind on the day of the autopsy,” she said on the third day of the trial. “The word ‘accident’ never crossed my lips to anyone, other than to say, ‘This is not an accident.’”
Has Marilyn Mosby Fulfilled Her Promise To Baltimore’s Youth?Justice by CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon In the days after 25-year-old Freddie Gray was fatally injured in a police van…thinkprogress.orgProsecutors argued that Goodson didn’t attempt to put the seatbelt on and declined to get medical help, however the focal point of their case was the notion that Goodson drove recklessly on purpose, with the knowledge that Gray wasn’t buckled in. That argument was weakened and scrutinized by Judge Williams, when a key witness couldn’t say whether or not Goodson was making erratic stops and turns.
According to Judge Williams, prosecutors didn’t prove that Goodson took Gray on a rough ride, failed to put the seatbelt on, and failed to get medical assistance.
This is the second trial to officially to conclude in this ongoing case. Prior to Nero’s acquittal, Officer William Porter’s trial ended with a hung jury.
Since charges against the six officers were brought in May 2015, Mosby has been sued by three of the defendants for professional and emotional damages. Meanwhile, Gray’s family received a $6.4 million settlement from the city.
In July, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced that all police vans in the city would be equipped with cameras.
In his verdict, Judge Williams noted that not securing Gray may have been “bad judgment,” but the state didn’t prove criminal negligence. He also said the term “rough ride” is “inflammatory” and “not to be taken lightly.”