Baltimore Officer in Freddie Gray Case Is Cleared of All Charges

June 23, 2016
A protester shouted at the police in Baltimore on Thursday after an officer was acquitted of all seven charges against him in the Freddie Gray case.

A protester shouted at the police in Baltimore on Thursday after an officer was acquitted of all seven charges against him in the Freddie Gray case.

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore police officer who drove the van in which Freddie Gray sustained a fatal spinal injury was acquitted on Thursday of second-degree murder and six lesser charges, leaving prosecutors still without a conviction after three high-profile trials in a case that has shaken this city.

In his ruling, Judge Barry G. Williams rejected the prosecution’s claim that the officer, Caesar R. Goodson Jr., had given Mr. Gray a “rough ride” in the van, intentionally putting him at risk for an injury by taking a wide turn while Mr. Gray was not secured with a seatbelt.

“The court finds there is insufficient evidence that the defendant gave or intended to give Mr. Gray a rough ride,” Judge Williams, said, adding that there had not been “evidence presented at this trial that the defendant intended for any crime to happen.”

Mr. Gray, a 25-year-old black man, was arrested in April of last year after fleeing, apparently unprompted, from officers in the downtrodden Sandtown neighborhood of West Baltimore, and loaded onto the floor of the van. His legs were shackled and his hands cuffed behind his back, and he was not wearing a seatbelt. The police wagon made six stops before it arrived at the Western District police station, where Mr. Gray was found unresponsive and not breathing with a spinal cord injury. He died about a week later.

On Thursday, the courtroom was packed, and hushed, as the judge read the verdicts; sheriff’s deputies had issued a warning: “No moans, no groans.” Afterward, Officer Goodson hugged member of his family and two other officers charged in the death — Officers Garrett E. Miller and Edward M. Nero — who had been seated in the front row.

The state’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, heaved a sigh and walked out, her head down, escorted by her security guard. The two prosecutors who tried the case, Jan Bledsoe and Michael Schatzow, followed, purse-lipped and looking glum.

For Ms. Mosby, the not guilty verdicts raise an obvious and painful question: Can she go forward with the rest of the prosecutions? Four more trials — including a retrial of Officer William G. Porter, whose first trialended with a hung jury in December — remain. (Officer Nero was acquitted of four charges last month.) Several lawyers who attended the trial said Ms. Mosby must now rethink her strategy.

“If she abandons the prosecution of the four remaining trials, the only interpretation of that is that she has been defeated — certainly that does not bode well politically for her,” said Warren Alperstein, a lawyer who represents police officers, though not those charged in the Gray cases. “On the other hand, how do far do you take this when you are 0 for three?”

Warren Brown, a defense lawyer in Baltimore, said that “this was the state’s Waterloo.”

Mr. Gray’s death spurred days of violent protests that prompted the governor to call in the National Guard and put the city at the center of a wrenching national debate over race and policing. Ms. Mosby, stood on the steps of the city’s War Memorial and told residents that she would “deliver justice” on their behalf. Ms. Mosby then took the unusual step of charging six officers in Mr. Gray’s fatal arrest and death, reserving the steepest charge — second-degree “depraved heart” murder — for Officer Goodson, who is also black.


Driver Acquitted in Freddie Gray Case Faced the Most Serious Charges

Caesar R. Goodson Jr., acquitted of murder for his role in the case of Freddie Gray, was the only officer charged with murder in the case.


Demonstrators and activists from the Black Lives Matter movement hailed the charges, but they were criticized by others as politically motivated or too ambitious.

In his ruling, the judge methodically turned aside the state’s main contentions. The state, he said, had failed to prove that Officer Goodson knew or should have known that Mr. Gray needed medical attention during most of the van ride.

Prosecutors, he said, had also “failed to prove behind a reasonable doubt that the defendant drove in a criminally negligent manner.”

Prosecutors had also claimed that Officer Goodson had a duty to place a seatbelt on Mr. Gray, and failed to do so. Judge Williams said there was a point, during the van’s fourth stop, when Officer Goodson should have reassessed whether it was possible to put a seatbelt on Mr. Gray.

“Here, the failure to seatbelt may have been a mistake, or may have been bad judgment,” Judge Williams said, but the state had not shown it was a crime.

Mr. Alperstein said the verdict also raises another obvious question, about the multimillion-dollar settlement the city paid to the Gray family last year. “There are certainly going to be people who will now question why the city of Baltimore paid out $6.4 million, based on these results,” he said.

Outside the courthouse, immediately after the verdict, a few dozen demonstrators gathered and chanted, “Freddie Gray should be with us today.”

“It’s another dark day in Baltimore,” said Janea Rogers, 38, a homemaker from Northeast Baltimore and the mother of two teenagers.

“I can’t tell them, trust the cops,” she said. “I don’t know what to tell them.”

Tawanda Jones, 38, has worked for police accountability since her brother, Tyrone West, died after a struggle with the Baltimore police in 2013.

“I’m disgusted,” said Ms. Jones, standing outside the courthouse. “I’m sick of being disgusted. I’m starting to feel emotionless.”

“They sent a deadly message,” she added, “sent to communities all over the world, that black lives don’t matter.”