The case against Baltimore City Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., highlights the power that police officers have over those they arrest, but not the responsibility for those they have taken into custody.
Goodson, who drove the van Freddie Gray was riding in when he sustained the injuries that would lead to his death a week later, had been charged with second-degree depraved heart murder, second degree assault, misconduct in office, involuntary manslaughter, two charges of manslaughter by vehicle and reckless endangerment. He was found not guilty of all charges today.
Judge Barry Williams delivered his verdict in a packed courtroom, beginning a little after 10 a.m.
Williams said that he relied, in part, on testimony from William Porter, when making his decision. Porter himself is facing charges stemming from Gray's April 2015 death after his earlier trial ended in a hung jury.
During Goodson's trial, Porter testified that although Gray had asked for help, and he had told Goodson that he wouldn't pass medical evaluation to be processed into Central Booking, he never really believed that Gray was in real medical distress. If Porter didn't think Gray was in need of medical attention, the judge said, it stood to reason that Goodson wouldn't have either.
Apparently, the fact that Gray asked for help was not evidence enough to show that he needed it.
In closing arguments given earlier this week, Goodson's lawyer seemed to argue two sides of the same coin—that officers have discretion in whether they take arrestees to the hospital, but also that their client didn't have the training to evaluate the kind of serious injury Gray sustained.
Going through each charge, Williams said the state, led by Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow, failed to prove that Goodson's actions were intentional and criminal. The state had argued that Goodson neglected to seat belt Gray, and didn't take him to the hospital when he asked, was enough to prove his guilt.
The State's Attorney's Office relied heavily on inferences and had difficulty proving its case. During closing arguments, the state argued that Goodson had meant to give Gray a rough ride, but that Gray's injury was greater than Goodson thought it would be.
Williams hammered on the state's use of the term "rough ride," calling it "inflammatory" and saying it was "not to be taken lightly." He said that while the state was not required to prove what a rough ride was, since they made it a centerpiece of their case, they should have. However, none of their witnesses could define what a rough ride even was, save Stanford O'Neill, a member of the Maryland State Police for 23 years, who couldn't say whether or not Gray had been given one.
The judge said that he had reviewed the few minutes of video the state submitted of the van possibly running a stop sign and crossing a set of yellow lines about 15 times—and didn't feel it was enough to prove much of anything.
"Unlike a shooting or stabbing… this injury manifested itself internally," Williams said. If the doctors that both sides presented didn't know when Gray was seriously hurt, then how would Goodson?
The judge said he was acknowledging that Gray was injured and that it happened in police custody—but also said there was no evidence that Goodson intended to give a rough ride.