Lawyers conclude Baltimore police van driver case
BALTIMORE (AP) — Both sides made closing statements Monday in the case of a Baltimore police van driver who could be fired for his role in transporting Freddie Gray, the black man whose death in custody sparked riots in the city.
Caesar Goodson’s lawyer said the police department is trying to run over his client in “a bus without any evidence.” The department’s lawyer said Goodson failed his duty, responsibility and integrity during the trip to the police station that left Gray fatally injured. Both lawyers spoke for more than an hour.
Attorney Thomas Tompsett Jr. aggressively criticized the department, saying an internal investigation led by outside investigators and attorney Neil Duke failed to include or seek out evidence that could have exonerated Goodson in a complicated case that involved multiple officers at six different stops the day of Gray’s arrest in April 2015.
“He failed to give the charging committee a complete picture,” Tompsett said, referring to a panel that brought charges against Goodson.
Duke contends in 21 charges against Goodson that the officer failed to follow department policy in multiple ways. They include failing to buckle Gray in a seatbelt or get him medical attention when he asked for it. After Gray banged around in the back of the van while handcuffed and in leg shackles, Duke described Goodson as so indifferent to his duty that he didn’t make any effort to interact with Gray to check on his physical condition.
“It’s not a heavy duty to be placed on a police officer to exercise that level of compassion,” Duke said.
Goodson’s lawyers say a team of officers responded to the arrest and worked together, and that other officers as well as Goodson checked on Gray on the way to the station. His attorneys also blame the department, because it failed to let officers know about a days-old policy change making it mandatory to put arrestees transported by van in seatbelts.
But Duke said Goodson, who had been a van driver for 14 years, shouldn’t have left Gray’s well-being up to other officers.
“It’s his wagon. His detainee. His responsibility,” Duke said.
Tompsett countered that if there was a wagon ride it was the investigation, driven by people desperate to hold someone responsible for Gray’s fatal injuries.
“Not every accident has a villain, but Mr. Duke would have you believe that’s the case,” Tompsett told a three-member police disciplinary board, comprised of two Baltimore Police Department officials and an outside chairperson.
Goodson’s lawyers also have noted testimony from officers and a policing expert who underscored the dangers of buckling a combative arrestee into a seatbelt in the confines of the van. But Duke said there’s no evidence Goodson ever tried to buckle him in, even at stops where there was no evidence Gray was being combative.
“So, we never get to that point, because there’s never an attempt made,” Duke said.
Duke also noted that state law requires Maryland residents to wear seatbelts.
“Why would we hold our citizens to a higher standard then we hold ourselves?” Duke said.
Goodson also is charged with making false statements for failing to fully fill out a record of his stops. In one false statement charge, Goodson is accused of wrongfully saying that Officer Zachery Novak told him that Lt. Brian Rice wanted Freddie Gray to be brought into the police station to calm down. By that time, Gray had already suffered the injury that would cause his death a week later.
“He didn’t want to be the one to discover Freddie Gray in the condition he was in,” Duke said.
But Goodson’s lawyers said Goodson did not intend to mislead anyone with the statement, which was made after a stressful series of events involving multiple people.
“It’s an inaccuracy,” Tompsett said. “It’s not a false statement.”
A new state law passed after Gray’s death opened these disciplinary hearings for the first time, but the outcomes remain sealed: The verdict and any punishment are considered “personnel records.”
Six officers were charged in Gray’s death. Goodson faced the most serious charge: murder. After Goodson, Rice and Officer Edward Nero were acquitted at trial last year, prosecutors dropped the charges against Sgt. Alicia white and officers Garrett Miller and William Porter. Nero and Miller recently accepted disciplinary action, according to the police union attorney who represents them. Neither their attorney nor the department would say what that discipline was. Rice and White still face disciplinary action before the board.