Three law enforcement officials began deliberating over Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr.’s professional future on Monday following the conclusion of his administrative trial on 21 charges of violating police policies during the 2015 arrest of Freddie Gray.
The panel could recommend Goodson be fired, which would amount to the most significant punishment to date after a series of criminal acquittals in the high-profile case, or clear him of any wrongdoing. They also could recommend a lesser punishment.
The panel offered no indication of how it might decide, though City Solicitor Andre Davis said late Monday that the panel will reconvene to announce a verdict, if not a punishment. Privacy laws keep disciplinary actions against police officers in Maryland secret.
It also was unclear Monday when the panel would make its decision. One member, Baltimore Police Maj. Steve Hohman, suggested at the conclusion of the public proceedings that the decision would not come Monday, but he offered no other information.
Goodson, 48, who was acquitted last year of second-degree depraved-heart murder and other criminal charges related to Gray’s death, could be fired if the trial board finds him guilty of any of the 80 or so specified infractions listed under the 21 separate charges against him.
A panel decision to clear Goodson of the charges would be final.
Any guilty verdict would be passed to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis along with a recommended punishment, based on a discipline matrix. Davis has sole discretion as to the ultimate punishment.
Under Maryland law, officer punishments are meant to be kept private.
Many of the charges relate to Goodson’s failure to ensure Gray’s safety in the back of his police van or seek medical attention for Gray after he’d asked for it. Gray, 25, who had been handcuffed and placed in leg shackles but not restrained in a seat belt, was found unconscious and suffering from severe spinal cord injuries in the back of the van, and died a week later.
Goodson also faces charges that he made false statements to detectives from Montgomery and Howard counties who conducted an outside investigation into Gray’s death on behalf of the city and its police department, and that he failed to properly document his actions on the day of Gray’s arrest.
The trial concluded after Neil Duke, an attorney contracted to prosecute the case on behalf of the city, and Thomas Tompsett Jr., one of Goodson’s defense attorneys, gave closing arguments that cast Goodson in sharply different lights.
Each side cast the proceedings as an attempt by the other to throw someone else under the proverbial bus — with Tompsett suggesting Duke was trying to throw Goodson under the bus for the failings of the department, and Duke suggesting the defense was trying to throw the department and Goodson’s fellow officers under the bus for Goodson’s failings.
Under trial rules, Duke was able to make arguments both before and after Tompsett argued.
Duke brought back a whiteboard with the words “DUTY, RESPONSIBILITY, INTEGRITY” written on it that he had used during his opening remarks to suggest Goodson had failed in all three regards when it came to his handling of Gray.
He also put up a second board with the words, “His wagon. His detainee. His responsibility.” He urged the panel not to fall for “the defense attempts to pass the blame” from Goodson on to other officers or the department as a whole.
Duke described Goodson as a veteran officer with 14 years’ experience as a wagon driver who knew he should have secured Gray in a seat belt or inquired with him directly about his request for a medic, but who had “become perhaps a little hardened or callous or indifferent to the plight of an average citizen” and didn’t do either of those things.
He also suggested Goodson misled investigators about the critical moments surrounding the discovery of Gray unconscious in the van, in order to cover up the fact that he had wasted critical time that delayed medical treatment for Gray.
Tompsett argued that Duke had presented little evidence to support the charges against Goodson, which constituted an “overreach,” and had asked the panel to “take his lack of facts and connect the dots for him.”
He said the department had failed in various ways to properly train and equip Goodson, and that Goodson had acted as any reasonable officer would have under the policies he was aware of at the time of Gray’s arrest — a claim bolstered by the testimony of the only witness to take the stand Monday.
John J. Ryan, a policing expert, testified that Goodson had acted reasonably in deciding not to secure Gray in a seat belt, given dangers that doing so created for officers and the fact that his supervisor at multiple stops of the van, Lt. Brian Rice, outranked him and was calling the shots.
Ryan said it would have been reasonable for Goodson not to secure Gray in a seat belt at later stops, or to further inquire as to his medical condition, because he could have reasonably relied on the observations of other officers and his knowledge of Gray’s combativeness at previous stops.
The arguments in the two sides’ closing arguments echoed those made throughout the trial, which began Oct. 30. The proceedings took place at the University of Baltimore.
The burden at the trial was on Duke to prove the administrative charges against Goodson by a preponderance of evidence in order for the administrative panel to find him guilty. That is considered a lesser burden than the standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt required in criminal court.
Hohman, who heads the city police department’s Special Investigations Section, which investigates sex crimes, served alongside Prince George’s County Police Maj. Rosa Guixens, the panel’s chair and head of a county police district that includes College Park; and Baltimore Police Detective Ryan Diener, a homicide detective with deep ties in West Baltimore and a service record that includes time on the executive protection detail of former Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.
Goodson is the first officer to face a trial board in the case.
Six officers were charged criminally in the Gray case; none was convicted. Goodson, Rice and Officer Edward Nero were all acquitted at bench trials, and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby then dropped all remaining charges against the other three officers.
Five officers were subsequently charged administratively in the case. Two — Nero and Officer Garrett Miller — have already accepted “minor” discipline in the case, and are back at work with the department, according to a police union attorney.
Two others — Rice and Sgt. Alicia White — are fighting the charges against them, as Goodson is.
Rice’s administrative trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 13. White’s is scheduled to begin Dec. 5.