Caesar Goodson, Jr., the Baltimore police officer who allegedly gave Freddie Gray a “rough ride” that killed him, was acquitted today of all charges by Circuit Judge Barry Williams. The decision probably means that all of the officers being prosecuted in the Gray matter will be found not guilty (assuming charges aren’t dropped). Judge Williams had already acquitted Edward Nero. Taken together, the judge’s rulings seem to imply that, in his view, the criminal cases against all six officers are insufficient.
It always seemed to me that the case against Goodson was the prosecution’s strongest. Goodson drove the van and, from reports, seemed to be the one in charge of getting Gray safely to his destination.
However, the case against Goodson fell apart at trial. I discussed this here.
Judge Williams acquitted Goodson for the very good reason that the state failed to meet its burden of proof. Regarding claims that the officer unreasonably failed to take action to help Gray, he found that there are a number of “equally plausible scenarios” for when Gray was injured in the van. This uncertainty made it difficult to say that Goodson failed to act reasonably.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Williams repeatedly cited the testimony of the prosecution’s medical witnesses that Gray’s injuries would have been progressive, and that he could have talked, moved his head and held himself up at various points along the transport. Accordingly, it would have been hard for Goodson to tell if Gray was injured.
“This injury manifested itself internally,” he said, of Gray’s spinal injury. Since “the doctors are not clear as to what would be happening at this point in time,” the “average person or officer” without medical training would not be “in a position to know.”
As to the “rough ride” claim, Williams simply found that the prosecution failed to prove that one occurred. Based on what I have read about the case, this finding seems unavoidable.
Judge Williams seemed to take a shot at the prosecution when he said that “rough ride” is “an inflammatory term of art” that was “not to be taken lightly.” Throwing the term around in a criminal proceeding without evidence to back it up is taking it “lightly.”
On the issue of seat-belting Gray, Williams said that Goodson neglected his duty when he did not secure Gray with a seat belt at one of the stops. However, the judge concluded that while this “may have been a mistake, or may have been a bad judgment,” it did not rise to the level of criminal negligence. He stressed that there’s a higher burden to prove criminal negligence than to prove civil negligence.
There is, indeed.
I don’t know all the ins and outs of the cases against the officers yet to face trial. However, it seems to me that Judge Williams’ findings in this case and in Edward Nero’s make successful prosecution of the remaining officers quite unlikely.
I feel intuitively that at least one of these officers must have done something wrong, and possibly criminal, for Gray to have died due to his transport in a police van. However, intuition and the possibility of criminality isn’t enough to convict.
Judge Williams put it well when he said: “As the trier of fact, the court can’t simply let things speak for themselves.”
It is up to the prosecutors to prove their cases. This they have not done in any of the three trials to date. Whether that’s because the evidence isn’t there or because the prosecutors aren’t good at their job, I don’t know.
I suspect it’s both. The very fact that they brought these cases, and overcharged so egregiously, suggests incompetence and a fair amount of malice.