Judge Barry Williams set to render verdict Thursday in case of Cesar Goodson, the officer facing the most serious charges in the death of Freddie Gray
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network here in Baltimore City, Maryland. We’re outside Courthouse East where defense attorneys just wrapped up their closing arguments in the Caesar Goodson trial, one of six officers charged with the in custody death of Freddie Gray. I’m here with reporter Stephen Janis, who will give us an update. What happened in the closing arguments today? STEPHEN JANIS: Well, you had both sides, obviously the defense and the prosecutors, giving their final statements. But it was very interesting because I think a lot of what you see is the stuff that hasn’t been reported. Jan Bledsoe, who is prosecuting the case for the state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby, went into very detailed argument about all the times that the officers got out of the van and locked at Freddie Gray. It was kind of a shame because I think for a lot of us who have watched this case, you haven’t seen it brought it out in such detail. And there were really 6. Although there have been 5 reported stops, there were actually 6. In each of those stops there are different scenarios where the officers got out of the van to check or to look on Freddie Gray. None of which, she pointed out, did they ever call for medical attention. Including one, the 5th stop where officer Goodson is seen waving his hand pointing back to the van–excuse me, not Officer Goodson but Officer Porter. So Officer Porter, who is the first officer who was tried, is seen in the picture raising his hand pointing towards the back of the van. He goes towards the back of his van with Officer Goodson and again they close the doors. And another time where Officer Goodson who is the person on trial, made a stop that was not called in, that was not reported, and goes again and checks on the van. And one of the reasons this is important from a legal perspective is that one of the arguments that the defense makes, getting to the defense, is that Officer Goodson had no obligation to make any calls about Freddie Gray’s safety or his health condition because Freddie Gray was uncooperative, because Freddie Gray was combative. He’s saying the whole time, the defense is making the argument he didn’t have to do anything because he was concerned for his safety and that Freddie Gray’s combative he has no obligation, which I don’t know if that’s true. But the thing is, if Freddie Gray was this combative prisoner, why didn’t they call it in? Which Jan Bledsoe pointed out. Why did he keep going to the back of the van and looking in the van and then closing the door then getting back and driving? She made a very interesting point when Officer Goodson calls in at one point–one of the stops, you could hear Freddie Gray moaning. But you can’t hear him screaming or banging his head. And another interesting thing about the combative prisoner, which I think is part of the key to this case is that Jan Bledsoe made the point that there was no blood or lacerations on his head of any kind that a person who is sitting in the back of a metal van, banging his head against the van, I think would obviously cause some sort of injury. GRAHAM: Isn’t the defense actually offering the alternative that Freddie Gray injured himself in the back of the van. That he is alone responsible for the injuries that he received and that Officer Goodson isn’t a neurologist and therefore couldn’t have seen those injuries. JANIS: Great point. There was a very dramatic point during the defense closing where he said for whatever reason, Freddie Gray instead of staying prone on the ground, decided to get himself up and cause the injury. And yes he said these officers are not trained to identify neurological disorders. Their strongest statement was that Freddie Gray was injured after the 5th stop. GRAHAM: Between the 5th and 6th stops. JANIS: There’s no way they could have known or to get any sort of medical attention to him because he wasn’t really seriously injured until he got to the last stop. A really, really interesting point, at the last stop Officer Goodson doesn’t call in any help. Officer Goodson doesn’t open up the back of the van. Officer Goodson doesn’t do anything. He simply leaves and it was another Officer who ends up calling and I don’t remember his name. But it’s really fascinating that he would stop the van 5 or 6 times, get back to the district, then leave the van and not make a single call. GRAHAM: And wasn’t there also an unreported stop? Didn’t Officer Goodson stop and not report it? Isn’t that absolutely part of the general orders that you’re supposed to report every time you stop your van? JANIS: That was a point that Jan Bledsoe made that the van stopped, he didn’t call in. It was right before he turned onto Fremont where they say he kind of sped up. He didn’t call it in. He didn’t say—you know and she said, that’s dangerous not to have officer assistance. He went to the back of the van, opened up the back of the van and looked in, closed the van and drove on, yes. And that was the stop that was just before he took sort of the wide turn onto Fremont and sort of went into the other lane, cross towards oncoming traffic lane and is part of the rough ride theory. GRAHAM: Now, this is a crucial case, and doesn’t the defense basically hinge on them being able to show that the prosecution doesn’t have any sort of real evidence that they’re offering? JANIS: I think this case is critical cause it’s the most serious case. He’s charged with depraved-heart murder, which is the most serious charge. You know he is the person who would seem to be directly the most culpable because he was the person driving the van. And it hinges on a couple legal theories. It could have bearing on other cases which is specifically how responsible is an officer in this case for the well-being of the passenger or the well-being of the detainee as they were saying. If legally he’s deemed to be completely not responsible for the safety, then who is responsible and what does a law really say. I think that’s something that might have to be addressed in a legislative session or at some point because it really seems to me that if Officer Goodson’s not responsible then who is? Here with [Steven Taveli], former lieutenant in the police department. Also the person who invested police involved shootings. So a lot of experience. Steve I wanted to ask you questions about the case. One of the arguments made today by the defense is that if a prisoner is at all combative and the person who’s transporting them or the officer responsible has no responsibility for his safety for throughout the continue of that custody, is that something that you think drives with your experience? [STEVEN TAVELI]: Well, I have to go way back because we never had this problem. We used to ride in the back with prisoners. And to say who’s responsible for his safety, I don’t know what their procedures in the department are. Now they have general orders and I have no knowledge of what they might be. GRAHAM: Well let me just get to that. So you would ride in the back with the prisoners. Were they restrained or were they in seatbelts? How would it work? [TAVELI]: They weren’t restrained. We had a wooden seat that the prisoners sat on. Most of them were handcuffed and we had a little seat by the backdoors with a handle to hold on to. And from the time we picked them up until we took them in to be booked, we were sitting in the back with them. GRAHAM: So wasn’t that considered dangerous for you? Why–how did you do that? [TAVELI]: Well I guess it was some danger. But we really never had any problem. You know we never had any kind of problems. If someone was injured or something we just took them right to the hospital. GRAHAM: Well now I want to ask you a question. I guess that means that kind of precluded you doing rough rides because you had police sitting in the back. Did you do rough rides? [TAVELI]: No, we never did any rough rides. You got to remember, when you’re sitting like in a thee quarter ton panel truck and you go through some of these seats you’re going to get bumped around. There’s no doubt about that. But far as trying to say rough rides–I worked a cruise and patrol for over a year and I was never involved in any rough rides. GRAHAM: Let me ask you another question because some of the things they say about, they don’t want to get in the van and seatbelt them because they’re afraid he’s going to take their gun. You were actually in the back of the van with everybody. How were you able to do that? Weren’t you afraid they were going to take your gun? [TAVELI]: When we put them in a wagon, they were always handcuffed and we’d sit them on a seat on the side. They were handcuffed and I was never afraid of my weapon with handcuffed people in there. I always had my weapon in a position where nobody could get to it. GRAHAM: We’re here with Todd Oppenheim who is the public defender, also a candidate or judge still. So we want to talk to you. There was one thing that was very interesting in the defense or in the closing arguments. That the defense said that they have—Officer Goodson has no responsibility for Freddie Gray’s safety, if Freddie Gray was perceived to be combative. What do you think about that argument? TODD OPPENHEIM: It’s a difficult argument to make. I think that he does clearly bear some responsibility. That is their duty. The care and custody of detainees. But you know obviously as a defense attorney you have to turn it around and say well wait a minute, his duties were being obstructed by the person he’s trying to take into custody. Almost that he can’t carry out his duties. It’s difficult because you know, representing indigent people, mainly black people in the city, I see how people are treated when they’re taken into custody by the police. And a lot of the times things will be misconstrued or written up in a different way than reality. And the police may write it up as the person being combative when in reality it’s the police being aggressive verses them. GRAHAM: I want to ask you a question because what struck me during the entire sort of argument that Jan Bledsoe made was they kept stopping the van and looking in the van. What exactly were they looking at? What do you think? You sat through the whole thing. I’m putting you in a tough position. But to me, if you’re a defense lawyer or a prosecutor, what are you thinking? Why do they keep looking in the back of the van? OPPENHEIM: Well, it becomes questionable at that point. That’s the question in the back of everyone’s mind. Does that imply that they knew something happened to him or not? But the ultimate question and the difficulty of this trial is can you take an inference like that and convict someone on that? When there isn’t clear evidence of his intent to go and look in the van. I mean it certainly doesn’t pretend well. It shows a guilty conscious to do that. But is that enough to convict someone on? And then do we want that standard, that same application of justice being applied to the everyday defendant? GRAHAM: Before adjourning today, judge Barry Williams announced he will render a verdict Thursday morning. This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network from Baltimore City, Maryland.