By Baynard Woods
October 30, 2017
Caesar Goodson, the driver of the police van where Freddie Gray was fatally injured in 2015, is facing up to 20 charges in an internal disciplinary trial Monday. Goodson is the first of the officers who were charged in Gray’s death, which set off an uprising in the city, to face the police department’s disciplinary trial. Lt. Brian Rice, the ranking officer, and Sgt. Alicia White will face similar disciplinary proceedings later this year.
This is seen by many as the last chance to find justice in the case after Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department declined to bring federal charges against the officers earlier this year.
In the criminal case brought by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby against six officers in 2015, Goodson was charged with the most serious crimes, including second degree depraved heart murder. The charges stemmed from a prosecutorial theory that Gray had sustained his fatal injuries in what is called a “rough ride,” in which the van transport driver intentionally drives in such a way that a prisoner who is not seatbelted could be injured.
The practice is not unfamiliar to Baltimoreans. The Department paid out $6 million to a 1997 case after man named Jeffrey Alston was paralyzed from the waist down after a trip in a transport wagon. And in 2005 Dondi Johnson Sr, who was arrested for public urination, was also left paralyzed after a trip in a transport wagon. His family was awarded $7.4m. As in most settlements, the city does not acknowledge officers’ wrongdoing in these cases.
In Goodson’s criminal trial, the “rough ride” theory did not pan out, as the prosecution failed to show any evidence that he had driven the van erratically.
Even the state’s witness, Stanford O’Neill Franklin, a former police commander, who was called to support the rough ride theory, could not say that he saw evidence of unexpected turns, stops, or starts.
“It’s not your contention that Officer Goodson in any way engaged in a rough ride?” defense attorney Matthew Fraling asked.
“I can’t say for sure,” Franklin responded.
Goodson was found not guilty on all charges.
Despite their prevalence in the city—months after Gray’s death, a police cruiser was photographed sporting a sign that read “Enjoy your ride cuz we sure will!”—many of the witnesses of Gray’s arrest thought that the rough-ride theory distracted from what they saw as the real cause of Gray’s injuries.
Kevin Moore, who shot the video of Gray’s arrest that everyone saw, thought it was absurd to say that Gray’s death and the screams of pain as police officers twisted him up with his face down and then dragged him across the ground are unrelated.
“I think the initial take down and then the knee in his back is what caused the initial damage and so when they put him in the paddy wagon, clearly you can see that he was being drug from one place to the other,” Moore told me during Goodson’s criminal trial.
Other witnesses agreed. “Police told him to ‘shut the fuck up.’ Just like that,” said Harold Perry, a partially blind man who heard the arrest from his home across the street. “All six of them was aware that he was on that ground screaming and hollering for help and nobody, nary one of them called an ambulance or anything to bring attention to his problems. He kept screaming my neck, my back, my back, I can’t breath, I have asthma.’ If that’s not telling you point blank out of his mouth.”
The two officers who arrested Gray—Garrett Miller and Edward Nero—will not face disciplinary trials and have already accepted their punishment, whose terms are not public, from the department. Goodson faces firing. Miller and Nero remain employed by BPD.
Goodson’s trial also brought out deep rifts between the police department and the prosecution, who accused the lead detective Dawnyell Taylor of sabotaging the case.
“My problems with Ms Bledsoe were about her integrity,” Taylor said of prosecutor Jan Bledsoe.
“She made some allegations about your integrity,” Michael Schatzow, the lead prosecutor, rejoined, noting that he asked that Taylor be removed from the case.
Such accusations, made in court, cast a shadow over the current proceedings. If an independent prosecutorial team cannot carry out a fair investigation without police interference, how can a trial board made up of police officials?
Taylor was charged with two counts of assault in a domestic dispute earlier this year.
As in the criminal case against Goodson, the defense is expected to argue that he did not receive proper training from the department.
Photo of Caesar Goodson by Mark Makela/Getty Images