Oct. 30, marked the first day of the disciplinary trial for Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson, the driver of the van that carried an injured Freddie Gray in April 2015. Gray subsequently died, sparking the uprising later that month. Goodson previously faced multiple criminal charges, including second degree depraved heart murder, but was ultimately found not guilty by Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams in 2016. None of the six police officers indicted in the death of Freddie Gray were found guilty of any of the criminal charges filed against them.
During the first day of the trial, prosecutors accused Goodson of being “neglectful of his duty to keep Gray safe” and “dishonest with investigators trying to find out what happened.”
Neil Duke, a private attorney, who has a contract with the city’s law department, is prosecuting Goodson on more than twenty charges of breaking police department policies. He said the death of Gray showed both professional and personal failings on Goodson’s part.
Sean Malone, Goodson’s defense attorney, denied these claims painting his client instead as the victim of failed city and police leadership.
Malone said city leaders are attempting to use Goodson as a scapegoat and make him the “face of their failure” knowing that officers felt unsafe transporting inmates and detainees.
According to his lawyer, Goodson focused on his job of operating the van and trusted that his colleagues handled Gray according to proper procedure that day, including deciding that Gray did not need medical treatment when he asked for it.
“This is a team. They back each other up,” Malone said to the panel consisting of three police officers.
Among the charges Goodson faces include providing a false statement pertaining to Gray’s arrest, and failing to secure Gray in a seatbelt.
For the first time, Goodson’s recorded interview was played publicly, in which Goodson said he, “Didn’t pay it no mind,” when Gray began banging around in the back of the police transport van he was operating.
He also said he didn’t secure Gray or check in on him at several stops because the other officers were allegedly checking on him, or because he felt unsafe doing it by himself.
When Gray asked for a medic, Goodson stated that he didn’t call a medic because when he asked another officer about Gray’s condition, that officer said it didn’t seem like it was an emergency.
“You can look at somebody and tell if they need to go to the hospital or if they’re lying,” said Goodson.
“I’m just having a problem understanding why you’re not taking an active role that day as the wagon driver,” said Montgomery County Police Detective Thomas Curtis, a member of the police panel.
According to Duke, the recorded interview was “confused, confusing, and did not comport with the evidence.”
Duke said that Goodson was hands off during the van stops and evidence will indicate he had no intention of taking Gray to the hospital that morning.
Malone argues that his client was part of a department that failed to properly train officers and did not have proper policies in place on how to restrain detainees.
“The department to this day does not have a policy in place on how an officer is supposed to handle a combative prisoner,” said Malone.
The trial is set to last at least a week. If found guilty, it would be up to Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis to discipline Goodson, which could include termination.
Goodson sat quietly between both of his attorneys during the trial, occasionally turning to give his seated family members hugs during court breaks.
Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) president Lt. Gene Ryan was in attendance during the trial, as well as community and law enforcement reform activist Ray Kelly of the No Boundaries Coalition.
“I thought today’s proceedings showed the need for more community involvement in overseeing the police department,” said Kelly.
Two more officers in the Freddie Gray case are facing the same administrative trials next year.