Freddie Gray case: Baltimore police investigators, prosecutors clash in court

Baltimore police investigators, Freddie Gray case prosecutors clash in court.

Tensions between police and prosecutors erupted in a downtown courtroom Thursday, with a top prosecutor accusing a lead detective of trying to sabotage the state's case against six Baltimore officers in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.

Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow also suggested that top police officials tried to persuade the doctor who performed Gray's autopsy to rule his death an accident rather than a homicide.

Detective Dawnyell Taylor, lead detective in the police investigation of Gray's death, denied the claims and in turn suggested that Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe lacked integrity and was dismissive of evidence in the case.

The clashes came during an explosive sixth day of testimony in the second-degree murder trial of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the driver of the van in which Gray suffered fatal spinal injuries last year.

The day began with Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams denying a defense motion to dismiss the charges following the conclusion of the prosecution's case Wednesday, but only after expressing "concern" about the merits of the murder charge. The day ended with testimony from Donta Allen, the second arrestee placed in the van with Gray, who sparred with defense attorneys over what he'd heard during that trip.

Still, the exchange between Schatzow and Taylor was the day's focal point, highlighting questions about Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan's decision-making process. And it further exposed a rift between police and prosecutors that began almost immediately after Gray's death last April, when State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced that she would launch an independent investigation into how Gray died.

Historically, police have investigated use-of-force allegations and forwarded results to prosecutors, who could investigate further and decide if criminal charges should be filed. Instead, in the Gray case, police and prosecutors worked on parallel tracks.

Goodson, 46, is the third officer to stand trial. The first trial, of Officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury and mistrial in December. He is scheduled to be retried in September. Last month, Officer Edward Nero was acquitted of all charges by Williams after a bench trial.

Goodson has also elected a bench trial, leaving his fate in the hands of Williams rather than a jury. Prosecutors allege that Goodson failed to secure Gray with a seat belt, failed to call a medic, and gave him a so-called rough ride. Williams specifically questioned whether they had presented evidence to prove the latter.

The defense has denied the rough-ride theory and said all of Goodson's actions were reasonable given his understanding of Gray's condition, Gray's combativeness during his initial arrest and Goodson's training.

On Thursday, Taylor testified that Allan, the medical examiner, said during a meeting in the days after Gray's death that it was a "freakish accident, and that no human hands can cause this."

She eventually ruled Gray's death a homicide, and she testified last week that she never considered it an accident. Her ruling has served as part of the basis for the prosecution's charges against Goodson and the five other officers.

Taylor was allowed to testify about Allan's alleged statements, which would normally be considered hearsay, as part of a "remedy" ordered by Williams for the state's having broken discovery rules by failing to provide certain evidence to the defense.

On cross examination, Schatzow asked Taylor about a falling-out she had with Bledsoe during the investigation last year. He also suggested that Taylor didn't like him because he had asked that the detective be removed from the investigation in August because he felt she was "sabotaging" it.

Taylor said that she was never removed and that she just agreed to stop communicating with the state's attorney's office. She also accused Bledsoe of acting like a child who at one point "stormed out of the room in a tantrum" during a meeting to exchange evidence.

Schatzow asked Taylor who else from the Police Department was with her when Allan allegedly said Gray's death was a "freakish accident." She identified a list of top commanders, including current Commissioner Kevin Davis.

Schatzow asked if the commanders had pushed Allan to rule Gray's death an accident. "That was precisely the news the command staff was looking for, wasn't it?" Schatzow said.

Taylor said that the commanders had not pushed and that Allan had offered the assessment on her own.

There was then an extended discussion about the state's contention that Taylor had given her notes about the meeting with Allan directly to the defense without providing them to the state.

Taylor said that she had offered her notes multiple times to Bledsoe, but that Bledsoe either ignored them or pushed them away when offered.

Bledsoe and Taylor at one point glared at each other during the proceedings.

The prosecutors and defense attorneys are barred by a gag order from discussing the case.

David Jaros, a University of Baltimore law professor who observed the testimony, called the exchanges between police and prosecutors "really unfortunate."

"This is a difficult case, involving really important issues, and if there's one thing that's important, it's that people feel this is a process that had integrity and was handled fairly," Jaros said. The accusations "undermine the integrity of the process as a whole and leave the community with a less clear resolution."

During last year's police investigation into Gray's death, to which The Baltimore Sun was granted exclusive access, police questioned the legitimacy of prosecutors' investigation. Detectives said witnesses they interviewed were never questioned by the state's attorney's office. Prosecutors accused police of being the source of leaks during the investigation.

Prosecutors say they were reviewing police findings as part of their investigation and were periodically briefed by police during joint meetings in April 2015. But police said prosecutors rarely asked them questions during these meetings. And they openly questioned what evidence Mosby had to support the charges she eventually announced — including Goodson's second-degree murder charge.

The Sun also reported that as prosecutors prepared for trial, Taylor said she and Bledsoe butted heads. Taylor felt Bledsoe was not looking at the evidence objectively, and Taylor challenged prosecutors' assessment of how Gray was killed. One argument was over the knife found in Gray's pocket. Police believed the knife was illegal according to city code, while prosecutors argued it was legal under state law.

The court proceedings Thursday featured defense testimony from another Baltimore police van driver and from a policing expert who suggested that Goodson had acted reasonably during his interactions with Gray. The day's testimony concluded as Allen, the other man in the van, was taken out of court in shackles. He is currently serving a 10-year sentence for violating his probation in an unrelated armed-robbery case.

In the past, Allen has given conflicting statements — one to police, others to local media outlets, including The Sun — about what he heard on the day he and Gray were in the van.

On the stand Thursday, Allen said he could not recall the day he and Gray were arrested until a video of his statement to police was played. Afterward, he was cooperative with prosecutors, who suggested he'd provided inaccurate information in the interview because he was high on heroin and Xanax, didn't trust the police and offered information they wanted to hear in order to be released from custody without charges.

Allen was combative with Goodson's defense attorneys, at first refusing to answer their questions and later reluctant when asked to read portions of his original statement to police — in which he suggested Gray had been banging his head against the van wall, possibly knocking himself out.

krector@baltsun.com

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