State: Baltimore officer caused black man’s broken neck
Baltimore — Prosecutors tried one last time on Monday to persuade a Baltimore judge to convict the driver of a police wagon in which 25-year-old black arrestee Freddie Gray’s neck was broken on the way to a police station.
Both sides delivered closing arguments after more than five days of testimony in the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson, who also is black, on charges including second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Other officers left Gray in handcuffs and leg shackles inside the paddy wagon, leaving him unable to protect himself from being slammed into the van’s metal walls during the ride. Prosecutors say Goodson “breached his duty” when he failed to buckle Gray into a seat belt that would have restrained him.
They also said Goodson failed to call for a medic, ran a stop sign and made a wide turn during the 45-minute ride to the station, which is only a few blocks from where Gray was arrested. Prosecutors allege that Gray was fatally injured after that wide turn.
Goodson’s attorneys say officers checked on Gray and saw no signs of medical distress during five stops before he arrived critically injured at the station.
Goodson declined to testify. He’s the third of six officers to be tried, and the state has yet to win a conviction in the case, which prompted street riots and a very public clash between prosecutors and police.
Initially the state alleged that Goodson gave Gray a “rough ride” with the intention of bouncing the man around and injuring him. But prosecutors made no mention of a rough ride in their closing arguments, and Goodson’s defense accused them of changing their story.
Prosecutors “failed to cobble together any type of case with reasonable inferences, let alone evidence,” defense attorney Matthew Fraling argued.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams will deliver his verdict in the case Thursday morning.
The judge was relatively quiet during closing arguments, but aggressively questioned Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow about the state’s rough ride theory during the rebuttal, taking issue with prosecutors’ allegations that failing to buckle a seat belt and call for a medic automatically establishes intent to cause harm.
“Are you saying that once an officer is put on notice that someone asks for medical aid, failure to do so is criminal negligence?” Williams asked. And if it turned out that Gray wasn’t injured, and was only asking for medical attention in an effort to avoid jail, would failing to take him to a hospital constitute breach of duty?
“Yes,” Schatzow said, adding, “it might not be a prosecutable case, but the duty is the same.”
As for the rough ride theory, Williams asked Schatzow whether the state was alleging such conduct because Gray was injured.
“You’re saying there’s evidence of a rough ride because at the end of it someone is injured?” he said. “Are you aware there has to be intent? Couldn’t it be an accident?”