As we publish this week’s AFRO, the verdict in the trial of Caesar Goodson, one of six Baltimore City police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray should be known. And despite the broad consensus that this was the, “strongest,” case the State’s Attorney’s office had in the trials connected to Gray’s death last April, as I write this column, some legal experts are not convinced the prosecution has proved their case, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” especially the most serious charge of second degree depraved heart murder.
“I do not believe they will get a conviction on the most serious charges. Maybe somehow the judge can find a conviction on misconduct in office or something,” said Sheryl Wood, a former federal prosecutor and founder of the Wood Law Firm. “He (Gray) went in (the police van Goodson drove) alive and he came out with his neck broken and other severe injuries and that should not happen and that is without question…(but) you have to be able to prove your case and that just hasn’t happened here,” Wood added.
Many have been all too eager to push the, “rush to judgement,” and “rush to indict,” narratives in reference to Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s decision to indict the six officers just days after Gray’s death and the subsequent uprising last April. Others argue the trials and results (so far) of the police officers connected to Gray’s death simply points to the herculean (at best) and almost always implausible task of returning convictions on police officers charged with misconduct, from murder to mayhem and everything in between.
The National Police Misconduct and Reporting Project tracked cases of alleged police misconduct between April 2009 and December 2010. The group found that of 2,716 officers accused of using excessive force, only about 200 were charged and 77 convicted. About 30 of the nearly 430 officers accused of killing a person using excessive force were charge, about half were convicted.
Against that backdrop, the United States Supreme Court earlier this week seemed to augment the already prodigious powers of police across the country. In a 5-3 decision, the Court ruled that evidence found by police officers after illegal stops can be used in court if the officers conducted the searches after they learned the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor offered a searing rebuke of her colleagues saying, “This case tells everyone, White and Black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged,” Sotomayor wrote.
The part where Sotomayor says, “your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights,” seems so eerily applicable to the egregious case of Freddie Gray. On the morning he was arrested he and his friends were trying to figure out where they were going to have breakfast and because Gray was known by police and somehow, `looked at them wrong,’ he winds up arrested, with a knee in his back and on his neck. Then his limp body is hauled into a wagon where he was handcuffed and hogtied. When he was hauled out of the van he was essentially dead. Yet, the way it’s looking, none of the officers on the scene that day is to blame and none of them will be convicted for Gray’s death. Maybe the fix was in from the beginning.
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.