Attorneys for Baltimore rested their case Wednesday against Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. after 2½ days of testimony in his administrative trial on more than 20 charges of violating police policies in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.
Goodson, the driver of the police van in which Gray was found with mortal neck injuries in 2015, is charged with neglecting his duty to protect Gray's safety, including by failing to secure him with a seat belt; providing false statements about the events of that day to investigators; and failing to adequately document the events of the day as required, according to testimony in the trial.
Goodson, 47, could lose his job if the charges are sustained by a three-member law-enforcement panel.
The trial has been held at the University of Baltimore since Monday. Goodson was acquitted of criminal charges in the Gray case, including second-degree depraved heart murder, at a separate trial last year.
Since Monday, city attorney Neil Duke has called to the stand Detective Sgt. Thomas Curtis, the Montgomery County investigator who interrogated Goodson, and several of Goodson's fellow officers who were assigned to the Western District on the day of Gray's arrest, including Officers Zach Novak and Garrett Miller on Wednesday.
Duke also played a video of Curtis’ interrogation of Goodson, airing the interview for the first time publicly.
In relation to the false-statement charges, Goodson’s comments in the video interview conflicted with the testimony of several other officers who took the witness stand, including about the circumstances under which the officers found Gray unconscious in the van at the Western District police station and the circumstances under which Goodson took the van from the station afterward.
Curtis testified that Goodson seemed “reserved” when Curtis interviewed him in February, and Curtis felt that “there was more there” that Goodson could have shared with him but did not. The charges against Goodson are that he lied about what happened.
In relation to the neglect-of-duty charges, Goodson did not dispute that Gray was not secured in a seat belt, as required by department policy. And in relation to the charges that he failed to document his actions, Goodson’s attorneys conceded that he did not log every stop or trip he made with the van on his daily activity report, as is also required by policy.
Duke argued that the duty to keep Gray safe was at the “core” of the case, and that Goodson had failed to do so.
In cross-examining witnesses and in arguments Wednesday asking for the case to be dismissed, Goodson’s defense contendedthat the policy requiring detainees be secured with seat belts only went into effect a few days before Gray’s arrest, and that Goodson and his fellow officers were unaware of it.
The previous policy allowed officers to use discretion when determining whether to secure a detainee in a seat belt, particularly when they felt that doing so would put their own safety at risk — one of Goodson’s concerns in Gray’s arrest, his defense argued.
Sean Malone, Goodson’s attorney, said that multiple officers who took the stand made it clear that the department had never informed them of the policy change in the days before Gray’s arrest, which meant “the duty was breached at a higher level,” not by Goodson
Goodson’s defense team, including Thomas Thompsett Jr., also argued that the officers involved in Gray’s arrest have provided such varying accounts of what happened that portraying statements made by Goodson as intentionally false becomes problematic.
Malone repeatedly suggested memory is “fickle” and can become unreliable, particularly in cases like this, where 30 months of media coverage, trials and interrogations have merged in officers’ minds to confuse them.
After Duke rested the city’s case Wednesday, Malone immediately asked for a dismissal, arguing that Duke and investigators for the city had failed to present known exculpatory evidence — something Curtis acknowledged Tuesday on the witness stand. Malone said that violated the law and made the charges "invalid."
Malone also said Duke had failed to present enough evidence to prove most of the charges against Goodson.
The panel presiding over the trial denied the motion to dismiss, and the defense is scheduled to begin presenting its case Thursday morning.
The proceedings are expected to last through Monday, though Malone said he was in the process of “condensing” his case.
At the conclusion of the case, the presiding panel will decide whether to sustain the charges or clear Goodson. Such decisions are not made public.
If any charges are sustained, the panel will recommend punishment to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who can accept the panel’s recommendation or determine another punishment. If the panel clears Goodson, Davis cannot challenge the decision.