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Baltimore prepares in event of protests after verdict in Goodson trial

City prepares for demonstrations following verdict in Goodson case Thursday.

Baltimore police and city leaders say they are prepared for any protests or demonstrations that might arise Thursday after a verdict is announced in the murder trial of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr.

Goodson is being tried for second-degree murder, the most serious charge faced by any of the six officers accused in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.

On the day Gray was buried in April 2015, the city erupted in riots, looting and arson. Demonstrations have been peaceful since Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged the six officers early the next month, and remained so after the first trial ended in a mistrial in December and the second in an acquittal in May.

Goodson, 46, opted for a bench trial. Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams is expected to announce his verdict at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Police say they are ready for possible protests.

"Out of an abundance of caution and sheer responsibility, leave has been canceled" for officers, Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith said.

"We have an open line of communication with our stakeholders," he said. "Not only is the Police Department prepared, but the community is, too. This is a partnership."

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the Maryland National Guard, which was deployed in Baltimore on the evening of the riots, will be available Thursday, as it was after the trials of Officer William Porter and Officer Edward Nero.

"They are on call for whatever we need them to do," spokesman Anthony McCarthy said. "It's better to be prepared."

Rawlings-Blake said the city is ready.

"I think we showed during the last trial that we are prepared," Rawlings-Blake said. "We have a joint information center. We've connected and collaborated with local law enforcement and regional law enforcement to make sure we have everything in place to be prepared."

There were peaceful protests in December after Williams declared a mistrial in Porter's trial when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the four charges. Police made no arrests.

After Williams acquitted Nero on all charges after a bench trial last month, there was a small demonstration, and some protesters pursued Nero's family into a nearby parking garage, with a crush of news media following.

Gray, a 25-year-old black man, suffered a severe spinal cord injury in police custody in April 2015 and died a week later.

Goodson drove the police van in which he was transported. He faces one count of second-degree depraved-heart murder, as well as charges of manslaughter, second-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

Rawlings-Blake said she believes some are focusing unduly on last year's riots instead of the orderly demonstrations that are more typical in Baltimore.

"A lot of emphasis has been placed on a few hours of an activity that was shameful, terrible, destructive," she said. "But it was a few hours in the history of a community that believes in seeking justice through peaceful protest. I don't want us to forget that."

The Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple in Northwest Baltimore, said he hopes "protests will be unnecessary and that the Gray family will actually receive justice."

Bryant said he was "more optimistic about this than the other trials" because it was the strongest case.

Bryant said he would support those who feel the need to protest.

"I think that demonstrations and protest have always been the engine of reform in America," he said. "I want it to be done peacefully. I think the young people have a right to voice their displeasure, but that doesn't lend itself to breaking glass."

Members of the Peoples Power Assembly planned to gather outside the courthouse for the verdict. The group has held small protests during hearings for the officers.

The group is planning a second event at Pennsylvania and North avenue in West Baltimore, which became a focal point of the riots last year.

Another group, which includes the family of Tyrone West, who died during an altercation with police in 2013, was planning to gather outside the courthouse. In a statement, members said they were ready to "take to the streets if Officer Goodson is let off, or given a slap on the wrist in the death of Freddie Gray."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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