Former Police Commander and current head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Neill Franklin testified today as a prosecution witness in the Freddie Gray case
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: On day five of the murder trial for the Baltimore police officer charged with killing Freddie Gray, Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore police commander, took the stand as an expert prosecution witness. Franklin is a retired law enforcement veteran who ran training for the Baltimore police department. He currently serves as executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Franklin gave testimony that aided the prosecution. He said according to rules, Officer Caesar Goodson was required to seatbelt in Gray. This, he said, could have prevented his injury. Prosecutors allege Gray, who was not seatbelted, suffered a severe spinal cord injury during transportation after an illegal arrest. Under cross-examination, Franklin did concede he can’t say for sure that Goodson gave Freddie Gray a rough ride, as the prosecution has argued. Franklin discussed the Freddie Gray case at length with the Real News before becoming a witness and coming under a gag order. NEILL FRANKLIN: When you look into one of these vans, it’s not like they’re padded. It’s metal. The entire inside of this thing is metal. And you’re operating that van here in city traffic, stop and go. Every police officer knows that someone in the back of that van, if they’re not seatbelted in, they’re, because of the inertia from making turns, from making starts, from making stops, they’re going to be thrown all over the inside of that van. NOOR: If convicted, the 46-year-old Goodson could face 30 years in prison for the charge of second-degree depraved-hearted murder alone – the most serious charge against the six officers charged with killing Freddie Gray. Earlier in the day, we asked University of Baltimore law professor David Jaros to evaluate how the prosecution has presented its case thus far. DAVID JAROS: I think it’s a very hard case, and there’s–often in the cases involving prosecuting the police it can be particularly hard, because generally the police are not eager to testify against each other, so we know even less. This case, I think they’re doing a lot with what they have. If there were one concern, there is–they made the allegation in their opening that this was not simply a case, a failure to get medical attention, but that Freddie Gray was the victim of a rough ride. And as I understand the term rough ride, that is deliberately, intentionally causing injury to a passenger by bouncing them around in a van. And so far, I don’t think they’ve been able to show that. So the question is: is there more evidence coming? Or did they over-promise in their opening? NOOR: So, people celebrated when these, when the indictments came down. But now it’s been more than a year later and people have sort of lost hope, a lot of people seem like they’ve lost faith in the process. They don’t feel justice will be served within the halls of this criminal justice system. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think that, do you think we’re–what do you think is being accomplished in this courtroom? JAROS: You know, I think that we have to be careful with defining success as a conviction of these officers of a crime. It is really, actually, important and notable that a state’s attorney chose to pursue charges like this against police officers, which has not happened across the country. There have been things that have been uncovered in the course of the trial. There is certainly no question that rough rides occur, whether or not one can be proven in this case. The fact that a state’s attorney admitted, and in fact argued, that police are regularly jacking up Baltimore citizens by arresting them without probable cause, that’s the kind of revelation that I hope creates momentum for some kind of social change. But I don’t think we should expect that we’re going to see that change come about from a conviction. And in fact, I take very seriously the fact that you need a lot of evidence. You need to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt to get a conviction for a crime. But you don’t need that to decide that we need new policies, that we need things like civilian police review boards to be able to monitor the police. So I think change can occur in a productive way that’s successful without a conviction. NOOR: Franklin, a fierce opponent of the drug war, previously told the Real News the drug war must end if we are to prevent future Freddie Grays. FRANKLIN: When you peel back not just the onion of this case, you know, and seeing what Porter has been charged with as a Baltimore police officer when enforcing these drug laws, and the officers, the bike officers, who arrested Freddie Gray in the first place. You know, Freddie Gray had been arrested multiple times for drug possession, like many other black men in this community. It is the number one reason why the lives of police and young, black men in the cities–it’s the number one reason for their lives colliding, as with this particular case. So we’re not just talking about this particular case when we peel back this onion, but we’re talking about many cases where this interaction between police and community becomes very, very problematic. Here the police are given a task to do that’s an impossible task, of enforcing these drug laws, where nothing gets better. Nothing improves, whether it’s the violence generated from the drug trade, whether it’s the corruption that comes from it, whether it’s the purity of drugs and the adulterated drugs that are on our streets, the amount of drugs that are on our streets. The fact that kids are recruited in it is–nothing improves from the war on drugs. And at the end of the day it creates this huge rift between police and community. As we’re standing here talking right now, at multiple locations out in the city, I guarantee you there are young black men being strip-searched by our men and women in blue right in the middle of the street, on the sidewalk, sitting on the curb, being taken out of cars while their cars are being searched, time after time after time after time. And at the end of the day our police officers, because of what they’re forced to do, are treating everyone the same. You know, everyone’s, has become a warrior in this war on drugs, whether it’s the police in the community or the boys on the corner fighting each other, and everyone becomes your enemy. NOOR: And so this case, and many others, like you said, have put the spotlight on this. And a small and increasing number of former law enforcement officers are speaking out. But why have there been virtually–places like Maryland, at least–virtually no rollback of the drug war? What is the reason why it’s staying in place? FRANKLIN: Well, I think a lot of it is still we have a lot of education to do. It’s still a political hot potato. Some refer to it as a red herring. No one wants to touch it. The third rail. But we are making progress. If not yet in Maryland, in other states across this country. And it’s just a matter of time before it gets here to Maryland. But I think Baltimore is primed for the change that needs to occur, and hopefully with this mayoral election campaign coming upon us, hopefully the citizens will ask the right questions of these candidates as it relates to the war on drugs, and as it relates to these problems that it creates here in Baltimore City. What are you going to do about it? What is your plan in dealing with the war on drugs, and rolling back this problem, and pushing drug enforcement and this, and these issues, to the lowest priorities on our law enforcement list. NOOR: The issue of the alleged illegal arrest we saw in the Nero trial. Why has that not really been more, made more of a deal here? Because if it was an illegal arrest, then how is this not just like a kidnapping where someone died? JAROS: So, whether or not Officer Nero and Officer Miller had probable cause to make the arrest, that has sort of no implication for whether or not Officer Goodson is doing what he’s supposed to do when he’s handed someone and told, bring them down to central booking for processing. So whether or not he should have been arrested isn’t relevant in terms of whether or not Officer Goodson committed a crime. NOOR: Well, because, you know, if someone–. So if this was a crime, if this was a civilian who did this, a citizen who did this, and they drove the getaway wagon, right? JAROS: Okay. Right, fair enough. So then if you want to charge that person with kidnapping you’d have to ask, well, what’s the mens rea, the intent for kidnapping, right? You have to know you’re kidnapping someone. And I think there’s, I think the prosecution would probably agree that Officer Goodson, when he shows up after being called to transport a prisoner, doesn’t have the expectation that he’s kidnapping someone. He believes he’s doing his job and taking someone who’s been lawfully arrested. So you can’t be an unwitting accomplice to a kidnapping. NOOR: The other issue a lot of people are concerned about is that a lot of people feel the injury to Freddie Gray didn’t even happen within the wagon, right, it happened before. And that’s what the video–[some people] say that’s what they say in the video. I know in previous trials they have shown that Freddie Gray supported his weight at different stops. Beyond that, I know you didn’t see the medical testimony in this trial, but from what we know about Freddie Gray, can you comment about that? JAROS: So I think everyone’s expectations of what happened were not, didn’t match up, with what the medical evidence ultimately revealed. And I think it was a surprise to all sides, and frankly I think it creates some mystery around the case. And I don’t mean that in a sense that anyone is hiding anything, but I think it just is surprising. Even in, even in this case, the defense’s suggestion is that the fatal injury occurred between the final stop, stop five and stop six, which was the final stop at the Western District. And what’s strange about that is on the one hand you want to say, so everything before that that seemed problematic, that would mean that that was, was simply Mr. Gray exaggerating non-injuries, which seems unlikely. At the same time, even the prosecution agrees that the injuries that seem so apparent on the original video, that those aren’t the source of his injuries. So the medical evidence sort of all the way through doesn’t match up well with sort of what people observe and how it’s being explained, and I’m afraid there’s just no easy answer to that.