Mimesis Law
21 May 2019

Another Freddie Gray Acquittal: Goodson Not Guilty, Not Surprising

June 24, 2016 (Fault Lines) – In a verdict that should come as a surprise to pretty much no one, Baltimore Judge Barry Williams found another Freddie Gray defendant not guilty. Officer Caesar Goodson faced murder charges for his alleged role in the case. He was acquitted.

Activist Sharon Black was interviewed almost immediately after the verdict on live television. Though she expected the verdict, she was outraged. Claiming the “system” was the problem, she didn’t expect justice. Another protestor, Lee Patterson called for people to take the fight to the streets. No justice, no peace.

Freddie Gray’s death was as highly charged as it gets. The city burned in protest. A young, ambitious prosecutor promised swift, severe and certain justice. While the country was in an uproar over police violence, cops were arrested quickly and prosecuted for serious crimes. The case was assigned to a judge who is not only black, but who used to prosecute cops for civil rights violations. The prosecutors pulled all the tricks in the book.

Dammit, why is no one hanging for this?!? If only there was some way to find out what this judge was thinking when he helped this cop out. If we could just see why he cut him a break, we could uncover exactly why these defendants keep getting cut loose when they deserve to be thrown under a jail. Why can’t someone just post the answer on Facebook so we can be properly outraged with little effort?

Well, no problem. We can do exactly that. The judge’s verdict is transcribed and it reveals exactly what he was thinking when he found Officer Goodson not guilty on all charges.

Let the great revealing begin.

Judge Williams started by explaining exactly what Goodson was charged with and what the state had to prove to convict him. This is handy for those out there who say “a crime was committed and someone must be convicted!” It’s a little more complicated than that.

The whole case boiled down to Freddie Gray’s injuries; when they occurred, how they occurred, and who knew about them. The prosecutors claimed all the officers, including Goodson, should have known about them. The judge was unmoved by the daisy chain theory that ended up with Goodson failing to take Gray to the hospital.

The State argues that it was obvious that Mr. Gray was in need of medical care. This was based on [William] Porter’s interactions with Mr. Gray at Stop 4 and 5 where, after Porter asked Gray if he, “Wanted to go to the hospital,” Gray said, “Yes.”

If this was the standard, then every time one officer told another that a transportee wanted to go to the hospital, and was not transported, the person who failed to transport could be charged with a crime. There must be more than a failure to transport after being told of an interest in going to the hospital for the Court to find criminal conduct in the failure to secure medical treatment.

Turns out Officer Porter didn’t give Goodson enough information to know Gray was in danger. Along the same lines, there was no proof Porter was aware of any danger to Gray based on his observations of Gray. You remember Porter. He is the witness the State got an appellate court to force to testify. And now it sounds like his testimony helped reveal how weak the prosecution’s case really was.

Various doctors testified for both sides about the injuries to Gray.

Based on all of this medical information, the Court is presented with a number of equally plausible scenarios.

What is important to note is that, wherever the injuries occurred, according to the State’s own witnesses, they were not complete; and, therefore, Mr. Gray could still talk, breath, move his shoulders, and possibly his limbs. There has been no evidence presented that the defendant knew or should have known of the distress Mr. Gray may have been in at that time.

The State’s own experts testified the injuries Gray suffered would not have resulted in immediately recognizable symptoms. All of the experts agreed that there came a point where Gray had “obvious outward symptoms”. But that’s the same point where the officers sought medical assistance. When Gray looked hurt, the cops got him medical help. That kind of hurts the whole theory they deliberately ignored obvious injuries.

Not one medical expert indicated that the type of injury Mr. Gray suffered was one that would have any outward physical manifestations that, before stop 6, would have alerted the average officer to the fact that Mr. Gray was in medical distress.

But why can’t the judge just convict him for Gray’s death? Why does he have to get all caught up in this stupid evidence?

This Court is constrained by the law to base its decisions on the facts presented in Court.

Facts. They can be very inconvenient, especially when they don’t result in proof of a crime.

The other prosecution theory was that Goodson gave Gray a “rough ride,” which means deliberately driving recklessly, to teach him a lesson. The prosecutors hoped the judge would give them a pass on falling a little short on proving that theory, but he didn’t.

Seemingly, the State wants this Court to simply assume that because Mr. Gray was injured, and the defendant failed to seat belt him after stop 2, allegedly ran a stop sign, and made a wide right turn, that the Defendant intentionally gave Mr. Gray a rough ride. As the trier of fact, the Court cannot simply let things speak for themselves.

Even if the rough ride was a possible basis for prosecution, it doesn’t sound like there was actually any evidence of it.

A thorough review of all of the State’s witnesses shows that not one was able to state a definition of a rough ride with the exception of Mr. O’Neill, who indicated his opinion of what a rough ride was, but was unsure if one occurred here. The investigator for the police department, Officer Boyd indicated that after his review of all of the evidence, he did not see any indication of a rough ride.

No evidence any of Goodson’s acts caused harm to Gray. So he is not guilty on all of the charges related to causing physical harm. But there were still charges of corruptly failing to do his duty. Those charges met a similar fate.

A review of relevant case law shows that a police officer corruptly fails to do an act required by the duties of his office if he willfully fails or willfully neglects to perform the duty. A willful failure or willful neglect is one that is intentional, knowing and deliberate. A mere error in judgment is not enough to constitute corruption…

Finally, the failure to put a seatbelt on Gray.

Here, the failure to seatbelt may have been a mistake or it may have been bad judgment, but without showing more than has been presented to the Court concerning the failure to seatbelt and the surrounding circumstances, the State has failed to meet its burden to show that the actions of the defendant rose above mere civil negligence.

And with that, the case against Goodson ends with a fizzle. On each allegation, there was simply no evidence of criminal behavior. Civil negligence? Maybe, but that’s why Gray’s family got a multi-million dollar settlement.

The writing is on the wall for this entire prosecution. Based on the evidence presented so far, the strongest cases against the officers have failed. There is no doubt the weaker cases will similarly fail.

The cases aren’t failing because no one cares about Gray. They aren’t failing because it’s impossible to find justice in a courtroom. They are failing because the courts were used to send a social message, to prosecute for a cause.

The outrage in Baltimore about these verdicts is misplaced. The real outrage should be saved for results that aren’t like these. For when a judge or jury disregards the lack of evidence and convicts on public sentiment, or to vindicate a cause, or just for the hell of it.

These verdicts aren’t the problem. A wrongful conviction is no justice for Freddie Gray. Judge Barry Williams seems intent on reaching a correct result, regardless of the tremendous political and public pressure to convict. The system worked in Goodson’s case. Don’t complain about justice, demand it from now on. That legacy would be justice for Freddie Gray.

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  • Not Buying It
    24 June 2016 at 9:56 pm - Reply

    A mother does not seatbelt their child. The child dies or is injured as a consequence. A person in custody must be treated as a person. This is not a mere civil matter.