Freddie Gray

Baltimore Police Van Driver Found Not Guilty of Charges over Freddie Gray's Death

Prosecutors unable to prove intent to harm by officer.

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Caesar Goodson
Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Newscom

Baltimore is now 0-3 in trying to hold any of its police officers criminally responsible for the death of Freddie Gray last year.

Today a judge acquitted Caesar Goodson—the officer who drove the van in which Gray was violently tossed around after arrest and suffered a broken neck—of all charges. Those charges included "depraved heart" murder, manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office.

Gray was not properly restrained in the van, but was shackled, making it impossible for him to protect himself from bumps and falls as the van drove around Baltimore. Prosecutors and critics of police behavior argued that this is deliberate, a tactic known as a "nickel ride" that allows officers to physically abuse people in their custody without actually laying a hand on them.

Six officers have been charged in Gray's death, but Goodson was arguably the most important prosecution as the driver of the van. So far, Officer Edward Nero was found not guilty of any role in Gray's death and Officer William Porter was freed as a result of a hung jury and is awaiting a possible retrial.

CBS and AP's reporting suggests that both policies that shield police from having to answer questions from investigators in a timely fashion, police protectionism, and very typical misconduct from prosecutors may have played a role in how the case turned out:

Prosecutors said Goodson was criminally negligent when he failed to buckle Gray into a seat belt or call for medical aid after Gray indicated that he wanted to go to a hospital. But Goodson wouldn't talk to investigators or take the stand at trial, leaving the state with slim evidence of intent to harm. …

At the start of Goodson's trial earlier this month, Williams scolded prosecutors for failing to turn evidence over to the defense about another prisoner in the transport van with Gray. …

[State's Attorney Marilyn] Mosby's allegations that six officers intended to fatally injure the resistant prisoner prompted five of them to sue her for defamation. Her chief deputy, accused of withholding evidence, told the judge that the lead police investigator had pressured the coroner to falsely declare Gray's death an accident.

"It is extraordinarily rare to hear a prosecutor accuse a reputable, prominent lead detective of sabotaging the state's case," said Warren Alperstein, a prominent attorney in the city. "Calling into question a detective who the commanders appointed to lead the case sends a clear message. It breeds distrust."

Fissures had formed even before Mosby vowed last year to deliver justice to an outraged citizenry. She said the charges resulted from a "comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation," even though police investigators said they had felt pressured to hand over their evidence prematurely.

Watch live footage of the aftermath of the verdict here.

NEXT: Impotent Gun-Grabbery, Redacted Islam, Deflated Trump, and O.J. All Day: The New Fifth Column

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    1. Whether it was a real weapon or not couldn’t be verified so far.

      ‘Alleged gunman’

  1. It pains me to say this, but this case lacked any evidence whatsoever, and there was never really any chance this guy or any of his fellow blue-costumed thugs would ever be convicted.

    That said, it’s hard to come up with an alternate explanation as to how Gray died in police custody, and Occam would probably indicate “Nickel Ride.”

    I don’t have a solution, except for maybe mandatory cameras in the transport vans. But shit they just turn those off whenever it pleases them and proceed to thug away.

    A nearly intractable problem in my opinion.

    1. I don’t like police abuse anymore than the next person. I just like proof beyond a reasonable doubt more than I loath police abuse.

    2. Eliminating laws against victimless crimes would help. Removing immunity of government employees would help.

      1. Removing immunity of government employees would help.

        Being under arrest and on trial for murder hardly constitutes “immunity”.

    3. Mandatory GPS tracking with accelerometer in all government-owned vehicles. Data streamed in real-time to third party who cannot delete or tamper with records. Vehicle is disabled if it hasn’t talked to data center within the last minute.

      Yeah, I know, never going to happen.

      1. Also cop gets mandatory UNPAID six-week suspension if their dashcam or bodycam ceases to function, for whatever reason.

        Kind of the opposite of the paid vacay they currently get for gunning some fucker down. Not fair, but neither is life.

        1. Also cop gets mandatory UNPAID six-week suspension if their dashcam or bodycam ceases to function, for whatever reason.

          As much as it pains me to side with the cops, that’s not realistic. Equipment does fail, and sometimes even if it’s not tampered with.

          A better solution would be that when the equipment loses touch with the data repository (see elsewhere on thread for more info on that) that the camera starts flashing a big red light and buzzer and the cop is mandatorily off-duty until he can get that remedied.

          1. I could get behind that.

        2. Also cop gets mandatory UNPAID six-week suspension if their dashcam or bodycam ceases to function, for whatever reason.

          If it weren’t for the NY Times Editorial Board blaming Christian Republicans for a mass murder committed by a gay Muslim registered Democrat I’d say your comment was the dumbest thing I’ve read this month.

          Does your employer dock you six weeks of pay anytime a piece of equipment they furnish you with has a malfunction…for any reason?

      2. “Unfortunately the disablement device was malfunctioning.”

    4. “this case lacked any evidence whatsoever,”

      You mean other than the injuries sustained while in custody.

      1. The injuries were an act of God. The cops who arrested him and rode him around had nothing to do with it.

      2. “this case lacked any evidence whatsoever,”

        You mean other than the injuries sustained while in custody.

        The fact that injuries were sustained does not constitute “evidence” that supports the criminal charges that were brought.

  2. Gray was not properly restrained in the van, but was shackled, making it impossible for him to protect himself from bumps and falls as the van drove around Baltimore. Prosecutors and critics of police behavior argued that this is deliberate, a tactic known as a “nickel ride” that allows officers to physically abuse people in their custody without actually laying a hand on them.

    The jury apparently thought otherwise. Maybe they were wrong. I don’t know because I didn’t watch the trial. Even if they were, bad jury verdicts are a necessary consequence of the jury system, which I would like to keep thank you.

    1. Yep.

      And you’d think a nickel ride worth its name would have been witnessed by other commuters. “Yeah, I saw a police van jerking around in traffic, stopping short suddenly, and then took a hard right. I nearly rear-ended it at a stop light.”

      1. They couldn’t find someone who witnessed this vehicle doing that? How do we know Grey died because he wasn’t restrained and they gave him a nickel ride or that he died because he went nuts and harmed himself? If it is the latter, they are guilty of negligence for not restraining him but not guilty of anything criminal.

        Without some kind of evidence of how that van was driven that day or some kind of medical testimony that shows his injuries could only have been caused by a nickle ride, I don’t see how you convict anyone.

      2. Perhaps they chose a low traffic area to do the battering part of the ride. Also, even if it was witnessed it’s unlikely that the people witnessing it took down the van number or license plate number and the time and date of the event. Because that’s what you’d need. Hell, you might even need a positive visual ID of the driver since records like who checked out the van tend to go missing or not be kept in these cases.

        1. All good points Tonio. The problem is that that doesn’t help the government. The government has to prove their case. And they generally can’t do that by the absence of evidence. Yeah, it is unlikely that such evidence could be found. Since the government not the defense has the burden, that means the defendants are not guilty.

          1. The government can usually prove their cases when they want to.

            1. Not always. Considering the political pressure to get convictions in this case, I find it hard to believe the government didn’t give it their best shot here.

        2. But you’d think we’d have heard something from someone. Even the other prisoners were (iirc) inconsistent and unreliable.

          1. My understanding is that “it is known” on the streets. But think of the power that police and prosecutors have over anyone in prison/jail, and how easy it is for them to come up with more charges to keep that person in jail for a very long time, or until they conveniently die in prison.

    2. There was no jury. The verdict was decided by a single judge.

      1. In a very wise move, and common among police, this office waived his right to a trial by Jury so that another cop (The judge) could acquit him.

        1. Depends on how you look at it. One way to see it is cops running for the cover of another cop. Another way to see it is a defendant running to a judge for protection from a community bent on revenge rather than justice.

          1. So maybe the jury was wrong to not convict him, but since there was no jury, it’s a good thing he didn’t get a jury that would have wrongly convicted him.

            1. If you assume he is guilty, sure. I have all of these weird ideas about people being innocent until proven guilty. Apparently you don’t and have concluded he was guilty proof and evidence be damned.

        2. Yep. Same thing happened in Illinoiswhen over a dozen witnesses saw a cop gun down someone by shooting out his driver’s side window (of his personal vehicle) while the vehicle was in motion.

          IL judge says “Should have been charged with murder, not manslaughter. Therefore, Not Guilty. And no double-jeopardy.”

          How convenient.

        3. BOW?

          Also, while many judges are former prosecutors, and all judges depend upon LEOs of some sort for courtroom and personal security, they are not cops. The are uncomfortably close to the cops for my taste.

          1. Bag of weed, tripped me up too, see below.

      2. Defendants in most cases get a choice on that. Some states, Texas for one, don’t give the defendant a choice. The government chooses if the case goes before a judge or a jury.

        Why did the defendants choose a judge here? Obviously because they figured a jury would hang them. Maybe this judge is a hack and would acquit any cop who comes before him. I don’t know. Even if he is, however, do you really want to take away the right of defendants to have a judge try their cases instead of a jury? I am not convinced that would work out very well. Nor am I convinced that hanging this judge because he acquitted someone would work out very well either.

        1. What John says is correct. We don’t want to bastardize the trial system in this country to quick-solve a problem that has much deeper causes and requires a much more comprehensive solution set, i.e. elimination of consensual crimes, implementing higher standards of conduct for police, removing special union protections, et al.

          1. The problem is that we have a police department in Baltimore that caused this to happen, not that this one cop wasn’t found guilty. Sending the cop to jail isn’t going to help Grey. Maybe it would deter other cops but I don’t think doing that is worth throwing out our criminal justice protections, the few we have left.

          2. I have no problem with requiring jury trials for government employees on trial for acts committed in their official capacities.

            1. I don’t have a problem with that but I do have a problem with it being okay to select certain groups of people and deprive them of rights other people have. That is a slippery slope I would prefer not to step on.

              1. But there isn’t a right to trial by judge. There is only a right to trial by jury. Goodson didn’t do anything wrong by choosing to waive his right to trial by jury, but the state could just as well have forced him to appear before a jury without violating his legal rights.

              2. They could always simply request that the trial change it’s venue. It’s done all the time for exactly the reasons you line out. One should be forced to appear before a jury of your peers, quite frankly. There are other options for a slanted jury opinion. One of the first things they’ll ask you is if you’ve heard of the case in question; and as I understand it if you have heard of it it’s essentially an automatic disqualification. Keep in mind you’re under oath when you answer those questions, and perjury is aptly named.

        2. Some states, Texas for one, don’t give the defendant a choice. The government chooses if the case goes before a judge or a jury.

          Um, what? I could see some states saying “you always get a jury trial, no matter what” but it would be incompatible with the 6th Amendment for a state government to say “we’re not going to give you a jury trial even though you want one”.

          1. I wasn’t clear. The government cant’ get a trial by judge if the defendant wants a jury. The government can demand a jury trial just like the defendant can. If the defendant chooses a jury, the can’t make them do a jury trial. But if the defendant asks for a judge, the government can object and demand it go to a jury and that is where it goes.

            1. But you said this: “Even if he is, however, do you really want to take away the right of defendants to have a judge try their cases instead of a jury?”

              So either you are arguing in the abstract (there should be a right to trial by judge) or else you are arguing contradictory points.

              1. In Texas, defendants do not have the right to a judge trial. If the government wants it to go to a jury, then that is where it goes. In most states, that is not true. The defendant can ask to be tried by judge if he wants to.

                My question is do we really want to advocate for the Texas system? I don’t think so. I think that there are plenty more cases where justice is served by letting the defendant choose than there are where it isn’t. The government only demands a jury trial in cases where they think the jury is going to unfairly screw the defendant. They should not be able to do that.

                Sorry my point wasn’t clearer.

        3. Guys, it’s not just one Cop being found Not Guilty.

          Practically all Cops waive their right to a trial by Jury.

          Given that Cops and Judges are partners, I have no problems with public officials including Cops, judges, prosecutors, politicians, etc. have this right revoked. All government officials should face a jury in criminal matters.

      3. Point of Information, Chippah: AFAIK, the only time you get a multi-judge panel hearing the case is on appeal. It would get really, really messy to have multiple judges presiding over a single trial.

    3. Yeah, as I understand the evidence:

      (1) The prosecutors had video of the van making a rolling stop and crossing a centerline with its wheel then it took a wide turn (allegedly to avoid a car);

      (2) The other prisoner who was in the van (for the last leg of the ride) said the ride was smooth.

      Unless you convict based on the theory that (a) rough rides do occur sometimes and (b) Gray died, it’s hard to get there.

  3. Just like Waco – if you get enough cops involved in a murder, they all get off because nobody can prove exactly which one did it.

    Unlike, say, a drive-by gang shooting, where everybody in the car gets convicted.

    1. That is not how it works. What happens in the shooting example is the police get someone to roll over and testify as to who actually pulled the trigger. Without that, you can’t prove anyone guilty of anything, not even accessory, because you can’t prove the shot was intentional.

      What happened here is none of the police rolled over and testified against the others. Any time you have a crime that isn’t filmed and which several people are involved, you are not getting a conviction absent flipping one of the people involved.

      1. And Mosby, the incompetent ass, had no leverage to roll anyone.

        Well, she is a prosecutor, and the trials will end with no cops in prison, so maybe she’s getting exactly what she wants.

        1. Well, she is a prosecutor, and the trials will end with no cops in prison, so maybe she’s getting exactly what she wants.

          That is the common wisdom in these parts. Also, once tried he cannot be re-tried for the same crime – at least not by the state of Maryland.

          The feds, being a sovereign entity, can try him for this . But there is no federal law against simple murder. The feds could try him for violating Gray’s rights, but they can do only so much if the police close ranks.

    2. Also, in those gang shootings you can get people on ancillary charges like weapons possession, associating with known felons, probation violations, etc. Once they are subject to those charges, it’s easier to get them to roll over. That sort of thing doesn’t work with cops for obvious reasons.

  4. UM, I am not a lawyer here but I thought the whole point of the manslaughter charge was that there was not an intent to harm merely reckless indifference to the possibility/probability of harm?

    1. Yup. You’d think it was perfectly obvious that this guy died because of negligence by the cops responsible for transporting him.

      But, golly gee, unlike in every other kind of negligence, if it isn’t on tape and nobody gives sworn testimony about exactly who did what when that was negligent, you just can’t look at all the evidence and say “yup. dude died because of negligence. These cops were responsible, and were all negligent, so they should be convicted.”

      We don’t need evidence of an intentional act, like who pulled the trigger. We just need evidence of negligence, and who was responsible for the negligence. Responsibility for negligence can easily be attributed to more than one person based on their duties, without needing specific testimony.

      Prosecutorial incompetence, either in charging or trying the case.

      1. There’s the heart of it: overcharging.

      2. As far as I can tell, negligence and recklessness aren’t crimes when perpetrated by cops. On the flip side, if you’re not a cop, you can be grossly negligent and/or reckless in ways that only Kafka could think of.

      3. Manslaughter requires depraved indifference not just ordinary negligence RC. No kidding they were negligent. But ordinary negligence isn’t manslaughter.

        1. Hence the existence of involuntary manslaughter/negligent homicide. Although I don’t know if those charges were on the table against Goodson.

          1. Negligent homicide requires gross negligence, which is more than just ordinary negligence.

            1. Maryland has both “Vehicular Manslaughter – Gross Negligence” and “Vehicular Manslaughter – Criminal Negligence” although the latter, which is the weaker of the two, does say “It is not a violation of this section for a person to cause the death of another as the result of the person’s driving, operating, or controlling a vehicle or vessel in a negligent manner.”

              This is why I’m not a lawyer.

  5. I need to get that law enforcement bill of rights.

  6. As long as police officers can waive their right to a trial by jury and have a Judge (effectively, another cop) decide, they will all be acquitted.

    The only reason the Chinese Cop in NYC was convicted was because he didn’t waive his right to a trial by jury.

    1. I’m a Niven fan, but I can’t reverse engineer the whole acronym:

      There ain’t no such thing as a free blank blank blank.

      1. Bag of Weed.

        Probably not, but that’s the way I’ve always read it.

      2. Bag of Weed.

        Probably not, but that’s the way I’ve always read it.

      3. bag of weed

        1. Excellent, and now I see that it was Heinlein. Niven coined TANJ (There ain’t no justice).

          1. Okay, now what’s a Deatfbirsecia?

            1. I mashed together all of the three-letter agencies I could get to fit where the last letter of the previous one matches with the first of the next. To break it down:

              DEA
              ATF
              FBI
              IRS
              SEC
              CIA

              Couldn’t find a way to get the NSA in there, it was either them or DEA. My point being that these agencies all kind of mesh together to accomplish their central purpose which is implementation of serfdom.

              1. As a suggestion:

                CIA
                AFN (Armed Forces Network, the TV and Radio Service of the DOD)
                NSA

      4. FAT BEAUTIFUL OBESE WOMAN

        1. John would beg to differ.

        2. I look at the BBW section of Pornhub.com now and then.

    2. YES…You guys got it:

      T here
      A in’t
      N o
      S uch
      T hing
      A s
      A
      F ree
      B ag
      O f
      W eed

      1. Heinlein is one of my favorite Sci-Fi authors, and an interesting guy, but he was also batshit insane. Probably one of the reasons I liked his novels.

  7. Prosecutors unable to prove intent to harm by officer.

    How convenient.

    1. Must be nice being a cop, and actually being subject to standards like mens rea. Little people are not so lucky.

  8. The thing is the DA went for political points. Had the DA charged simple negligence that was far easier to prove and there is a good chance they would have gotten a conviction. But instead there was a career to be advanced.

  9. Good call on the part of the officer to choose a trial by judge. That practically guaranteed his acquittal. After all, they’re all on the same team. Judge, defendant, prosecutor, and defense.

    1. Hey, that’s what I said

  10. Imagine, if you will, that as part of a fraternity initiation, a pledge was put in the trunk of a car, and wound up dead of a broken neck.

    Does anyone think that the bros involved in putting him in the trunk and driving would walk away, without a single criminal conviction? Of course not. Yet cops who did exactly the same thing will, indeed walk.

    1. If the Baltimore police were running around sticking people in the trunks of cars instead of in the back of police vans, your analogy would work. But that is not what happened so it doesn’t.

      Beyond that, I think it is very possible there would not be any criminal conviction there. You have to show gross negligence or depraved indifference. And you would have to prove which fraternity members actually put the guy in the trunk. Sorry but “one of them had to do it and this guy was there” isn’t proof.

      1. If the Baltimore police were running around sticking people in the trunks of cars instead of in the back of police vans, your analogy would work.

        What difference is there between being put in the back of a van negligently and the trunk of a car negligently?

        You have to show gross negligence or depraved indifference.

        I don’t think negligence would be hard to prove at all. Dude gets stuffed in trunk and his neck is broken during the ride. Hard to see how that happens without negligence. “Gross” negligence, in practice, is basically negligence that pisses off the fact-finder, so I think I could get that, what with the dead guy and all.

        And you would have to prove which fraternity members actually put the guy in the trunk.

        That might be a little trickier, I suppose, if you couldn’t roll one or didn’t have a witness.

  11. 2nd look at my idea of a hard bag limit of one kill, justifiable or not, for a police officer?

    “thank you for your service. good luck in your new private sector career.”

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