TRNN speaks to Baltimore activists and a legal scholar about Judge Barry Williams’ not-guilty ruling in the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson, who had been charged with murder
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: On Thursday a critical verdict was handed down in the ongoing legal battle to hold six Baltimore police officers accountable for the death of Freddie Gray. Judge Barry Williams found the driver of the van which transported Gray, Officer Caesar Goodson, not guilty of all counts. Outside the courthouse, activists were stunned by the verdict, including Tawanda Jones, whose brother Tyrone West was also killed in police custody under questionable circumstances. TAWANDA JONES: We are human beings. We deserve, we deserve to have the right to walk in our communities, and run in our communities, and be safe by people we think is to serve and protect us. Who the hell are they serving, and who the hell are they protecting? NOOR: Williams said prosecutors failed to make the case Goodson was criminally liable for not seatbelting Gray in the back of a van. He also brushed aside allegations Goodson knowingly gave Gray a so-called “rough ride”. Goodson was the wagon driver that transported the 25-year-old after he was detained for running after making eye contact with police in West Baltimore last year. Tessa Hill Aston is the head of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP. She said people want officers to be held criminally responsible when someone dies in custody. TESSA HILL ASTON: Even though the state could not prove the rough ride, I still believe it was a rough ride. I believe, like so many others, that the first two officers that took Freddie down on the bike injured something, and it just got progressively worse. He wasn’t a criminal at that point. He didn’t get taken to central booking. He hadn’t been booked. He should not be dead. That’s the bottom line. He just shouldn’t be dead, and it’s just a flaw in the system that there’s no rules to have guidelines that people, someone is dead at the hands of the police, and they don’t get criminally–there’s bad behavior, but it wasn’t a criminal act, and that’s what the judge is saying. NOOR: The first officer’s trial, William Porter, ended in a hung jury, and the second, Edward Nero, also ended in an acquittal of all charges. University of Maryland law professor Doug Colbert was not directly involved in a trial, but has been following the case closely. DOUG COLBERT: We still wonder how a 25-year-old Freddie Gray could be left in the dangerous situation he was experiencing while in police custody. NOOR: And you call this an unprecedented prosecution, because cops just don’t get charged with these crimes. What has the prosecution learned? And some are still saying these charges should never have been brought in the first place. COLBERT: There are those, particularly from the police union and their supporters, that will always say that charges should never be brought against a police officer because of the danger of their position. I’ve spoken to too many officers who would have handled things much differently if they were the transport driver, and if they were the arresting officers. And I think it’s very difficult for people to understand how you can leave someone handcuffed and shackled and in the back of a van with no protection, while–and the person dies or suffers fatal injuries while in police custody. NOOR: And could this have repercussions for police-prosecutor relations in this city? We saw those tensions explode last week. COLBERT: No, I think the underlying subtext from the police union’s point of view is that they want police officers to decide whether or not to bring criminal charges, not the prosecutor. The way it’s done in almost every other part of the country is the prosecutor is the gatekeeper and decides whether or not to charge somebody with possession of a knife, or to say that’s not a crime. So there’s a subtext here where the police and the union want to hold on to its power. The prosecutor’s trying to assert its rightful role as a legal officer. And then there’s the tension between the police union and the police commissioner, and I think that also got played out during the trial. We learn a lot, though, and we don’t get to understand the information without a public trial. Usually these cases are dismissed behind closed doors of a grand jury, or of an elected official. And here we have a local prosecutor who conducted an independent investigation, which had to be done, in this case. NOOR: Some legal experts have claimed that the not-guilty ruling in this case throws the other cases against the other officers in jeopardy. But Colbert disagrees. The next trial is set to begin the first week of July. COLBERT: I think every case is going to stand on its own, and I think people are really interested in finding out the next trial, about Lt. Rice’s role, from the moment that the chase began. NOOR: From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.