Officer Caesar Goodson has been found not guilty of all charges. Judge Barry Williams used the three days between closing arguments and this morning–06-23-16–to good effect, producing a careful and professional ruling, available in PDF form here. I recommend that anyone interested in learning how the courts should function read Judge Williams’ verdict and its clearly expressed justification. I will be referring to parts of it.
For everyone that loves the Constitution, liberty and the rule of law that makes liberty possible, any joy over the verdict should be tempered with the knowledge that these cases are not yet over. The careers and lives of the officers still hang in the balance. Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby’s decision to pursue these cases without clear, sufficient evidence to prove the elements of the excessive and overlapping charges has caused enormous damage, far more than most imagine. The damage continues. There will be no winners, but more on that later. First, a sampling of comments from various sources:
Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore NAACP, called the verdict very disappointing and said it shows flaws in the system. She said many were expecting the Goodson case to be the one in which prosecutors had the best chance of a conviction.
‘We have to go back to the drawing board here in Baltimore and Maryland with rules and regulations and laws that affect the police behavior,’ she said, ‘because it’s clear that they can do action that we feel is not correct, but in the courtroom … is not a criminal act.
People often feel that the police are acting improperly, but commonly, know neither the law, police procedure, nor the Constitution. They want social justice, not the rule of law.
The case was precarious and always had a real question as to ‘the actual cause of death,’ said former Maryland prosecutor Ahmet Hisim.
‘Prosecutors had to work backwards to figure out how and why Gray died, which is a difficult task,’ he said.
‘No one really knows what happened in the back of that van,’ he said.
Working backward, as Hisim noted, is symptomatic of the prosecution’s lack of professionalism. The only way to ensure justice under the rule of law is to complete a careful, professional investigation, regardless of how long it takes, and only then make a charging decision based on the prosecution’s ability to prove each and every element of each charge beyond a reasonable doubt. We know now, particularly after the admission of Major Sam Cogen, none of that happened.
And we do know what happened, as closely as it is possible to know: Freddie Gray, under the influence of two distinct classes of illegal drugs, and upset over being arrested, stood up while the van was moving and fell, fatally injuring himself. It was an accident, not a crime.
The Rev. C.D. Witherspoon said he was upset over the not guilty verdict.
‘To say we’re devastated by it is an understatement,’ Witherspoon said. ‘We feel that the criminal justice system has certainly failed us. And not just us as in one race of people but the entire city. The criminal justice system in Baltimore had the opportunity while the eye of the nation was watching that we oppose police terror. But, we have failed this city by this decision.
The Reverend, like many others, is seeking social justice, not justice under the rule of law. The prosecution had all the time it needed, every resource it needed, and every advantage, including repeatedly getting away with withholding exculpatory evidence without sanction, and still had no case.
Question: What do you think is next in the case? It’s kind of the questions everyone is asking, what’s going to happen next?
[Baltimore Attorney Warren A.] Brown: Well, you know, the State’s going to have to re-assess. One of the things I’m certain they are going to have to reconsider is the most recent revelation from the Sheriff’s department that they did not do an investigation. And that’s important, because early on in this case the defense had attempted to subpoena Bledsoe, Janet Bledsoe, and Michael Schatzow, the prosecutors, but they were prohibited from doing that because they were just the prosecutors, they didn’t investigate the case. Now we’re finding out that they had done the investigation, presented it to the Sheriffs just for their signature, and so there may be another request on the part of the defense that these two become witnesses, and if that’s the case that might give the State an out, that might give them an opportunity to say, “Well, we’re not going to proceed any further.
Question: Overall, the verdict, do you think?
Brown: Oh, absolutely the right verdict. Keep in mind that you have an African-American judge who was in the Justice Department prosecuting police misconduct. So this is not someone that is going to be sympathetic on the face [of it] to the defendant who happens to be a police officer, on the contrary. His opinion was well-reasoned. He juxtaposed the law to the facts, and made it very clear that what you are asking me to do, States Attorney, I cannot do because you haven’t presented the evidence necessary for me to do that. And that’s justice, that’s what we expect from a judge or jury – to render the decision based on the evidence juxtaposed to the standard that the state is held to – which is proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt. To say that Goodson murdered Freddie Gray was absurd right from the start, but as I indicated before, they made their decision, the State’s Attorney office, to prosecute and then work backwards as opposed to getting all of the evidence, looking it over, and deciding where to go. And we know that because the police turned their investigation over to Marilyn Mosby’s office on a Thursday and on Friday morning she’s coming down the steps of War Memorial indicating what she’s going to do, and it left us all wondering, ‘How could you have decided that quickly?’ So they made the decision to prosecute and work backwards and now they are having to pay the price for that because the evidence is just not there to support it.
How could Mosby have decided that quickly? She couldn’t, not if a competent, professional, ethical prosecution was her goal.
THE VERDICT: Again, I encourage everyone to read Judge Williams’ decision. He has shown himself to be an honorable, learned and brave man, but more on that shortly. Let’s consider the three “novel legal theories” employed by the Prosecution, which are the same theories used in the Porter and Nero cases, and all the prosecution has to use against the remaining officers.
The Rough Ride: Judge Williams made it crystal clear that the State produced no evidence whatever to prove there was a rough ride. In fact, he savaged the Prosecution for so loosely using the term:
The Court next looks to see if any of the actions or inactions of the defendant lends themselves to the ‘rough ride” theory posited by the State. While the State has argued that it is not required to prove a ‘rough ride,’ the State used the term in its opening statement as the center piece of its argument that the defendant is criminally responsible for the injuries to Mr. Gray due to the ‘rough’ ride. The term “rough ride” is an inflammatory term of art first requiring definition and then observable evidence that it occurred. When uttered, it is not to be taken lightly for, at a minimum, it means there are actions and intent on the part of the individual driving the vehicle.
As I noted in previous updates, the video purporting to show that Officer Goodson ran a stop sign and made a wide turn, crossing the center line, was equally unimpressive to Judge Williams, who, just as I did, concluded that it was impossible to tell if the van actually ran a stop sign, and the wide turn was made to avoid a large van parked near the corner. He also made clear that the motion of the van was not in any way dangerous or indicative of a “rough ride.”
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. 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.
Failure To Seat Belt: Judge Williams also made short work of this novel prosecution theory:
The State argued in closing that, by failing to seat belt Mr. Gray and then driving, the defendant knew what would happen, and that he intended for Mr. Gray to be injured, but possibly not to the degree Mr. Gray was injured.
This Court finds no evidence that was presented that would support that specific argument. There was no evidence presented of any animosity between the defendant and Mr. Gray. In fact, the State did not present evidence that they even knew each other. As the State has pointed out repeatedly, there was no evidence that Mr. Gray bit, kicked, spit, or attacked any of the officers. In short, the State presented no evidence that the defendant had a reason to specifically intend Mr. Gray.
Judge Gray found that officers do have discretion in application of the seatbelt policy, and that even though Goodson might have–the Judge used equivocal language such as “may”–been negligent in not seat belting Gray at the 4th stop (but not any of the others), such failure was not a crime.
This Court is satisfied that even if the defendant had the duty to seatbelt and failed in this duty, based on the medical testimony of the experts, there is insufficient evidence to show that this failure created a ‘very high degree of risk to the life of Mr. Gray,’ and that it caused the death of Mr. Gray.
Even assuming the failure to seat belt caused the death of Mr. Gray, and this Court has already determined there is insufficient evidence concerning that issue, the State is required to show that the defendant was aware of the risk this would, not could, cause and acted with extreme disregard for the life endangering consequences. Those facts have not been presented to this Court.
Failure To Provide Medical Care: Judge Williams ruled that based on all of the medical–and other supporting–evidence, no police officer could have been aware that Freddie Gray was in genuine medical distress until the 6th and final stop:
Unlike in a shooting or stabbing, where there is usually blood or an obvious injury to the body, or a car accident where the person is removed from the vehicle complaining of observable injuries or has a dislocated arm or leg that is at an obviously different angle, this injury manifested itself internally. The Court notes the dispute between the medical experts concerning degree of injury and whether symptoms would manifest themselves immediately or not. That is one of the key issues here. If the doctors are not clear as to what would be happening at this point in time, how would the average person or officer without medical training know? 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.
This Court is constrained by the law to base its decisions on the facts presented in Court. While certainly possible, the evidence presented at this trial, even if looking at only the State’s witnesses, does not lead this Court to the conclusion that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Gray was in need of medical treatment between stops 2 and 5 and that the defendant, or an officer similarly situated, would have or should have known that Mr. Gray was necessarily in need of medical treatment at stops 2 through 5.
The remainder of the decision explains in precise detail the levels of proof required for each crime, and why the prosecution failed to meet those levels of proof for each crime. It was not remotely a close decision; the prosecution had no real evidence from the start.
When the Baltimore Sun Turns On You:
As I have repeatedly noted in covering this case over the last year+, The Sun has consistently supported the social justice narrative, omitting information unhelpful to the prosecution and failing to inform the public of important findings and evidence. Anyone reading The Sun would come away with the social justice perspective and think the entire system corrupt, determined to cover up police wrong doing. The Sun, of course, is not the only media outlet determined to propagandize rather than to objectively inform, but it has been the most prominent and consistent. Those that have read this scruffy little blog’s coverage have had a far more balanced and informed perspective and understand that the prosecution failed because, lacking actual evidence, it never should have filed charges.
An example of the social justice narrative vs. the rule of law is the media/public presumption that Caesar Goodson would be the easiest to convict. Those holding this unwarranted idea were apparently convinced that the ridiculous number of overlapping charges would ensure he was convicted of something. And if social justice rather than the law prevailed, that would likely have been true. In reality, the overlapping charges meant that if the most serious charge couldn’t be proved, none would be, which is precisely what happened.
Now even The Sun is turning on Marilyn Mosby. Better far, far too late than never, I suppose:
The acquittal of Officer Caesar Goodson on all counts in the death of Freddie Gray should prompt State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to re-evaluate whether or how to pursue the cases against the four remaining officers charged in the case. Officer Goodson, as the driver of the van in which Gray was injured, was most responsible for his safety. If prosecutors’ evidence isn’t strong enough to prove he was criminally responsible, it’s hard to see how they could convict the others, particularly on charges of manslaughter and assault. Moreover, Ms. Mosby needs to ask whether her deputies’ courtroom tactics threaten to do irreparable harm to the crucial relationship between police and prosecutors. Things got ugly during the Goodson trial in a way that didn’t serve the public’s interest. [skip]
Prosecutors also need to take a step back and evaluate whether they did more harm than good by accusing police of trying to steer their investigation and the medical examiner’s findings toward a conclusion that Gray’s death was an accident. The police investigation was anything but cursory — we know because Sun reporter Justin George was in the room for most of it — and to suggest it was a sham impugns the integrity of the 30 officers involved, up to and including Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.
Granted, the courtroom invective was not one-sided; Det. Dawnyell Taylor lashed back at prosecutors when she was on the witness stand last week, accusing them of childish behavior and dismissiveness toward evidence that didn’t support their theory. But it is the prosecutors who will determine the direction and the tone of the cases going forward. (Indeed, the only reason Ms. Taylor testified in the first place was as a ‘remedy’ Judge Williams crafted for the prosecution’s failure to hand over evidence to the defense.)
Imagine that: The Baltimore Sun actually standing up for the integrity of the police officers that investigated the Gray case. It’s rather sad it took them so long, and they contributed to so much damage.
As I noted earlier, Judge Williams has demonstrated beyond any doubt that he is a professional, honorable and brave judge who upholds the rule of law, as any judge must, but as far too many do not. He, and his family, will pay for his just and lawful verdicts. As a black man, many of his race will think him a race traitor. I have no doubt he has been the recipient of death threats, and they will accelerate in quantity and viciousness. I hope he is given adequate around-the-clock security. To the Black Lives Matter/Social Justice factions, he will surely be marked an enemy.
He deserves far better. He deserves the praise and respect of every law-abiding American. At a time when he could have easily taken the path of social justice, engaged in racial division, and enjoyed acclaim in some circles, he chose the path of actual justice, and judged not as a black judge, but as a judge who happens to be black–an American–based on the law and the lack of evidence.
Judge Williams’ rulings have eviscerated–thankfully–every prosecution theory. Remember that the evidence for each trial against each officer is identical, and so are the witnesses. He has ruled there was no rough ride. He has ruled that no one could have determined Gray was in medical distress until the 6th and final stop at the booking facility. Only then could the officers possibly have realized that Gray needed emergency medical care, and when they did, they immediately summoned it. And he has ruled that even if an officer did fail to use a seatbelt, it was not the cause of Gray’s death, and it was not a crime. Officers retain discretion in such matters.
This is an important decision. If police policies, made by police administrators, are crimes, Judge Williams could have, by the stroke of a pen, made police administrators unelected, unaccountable, legislators. Officers could and would be prosecuted for using what tiny discretion they retained. During my police days, I would surely have gone to the pen for a three strikes violation for failing to wear my idiotic police hat.
With the affidavit of Major Sam Cogen, Judge Williams will now be sore pressed to keep the prosecutors, including Marilyn Mosby, from being called as witnesses, perhaps even from being deposed by the lawyers defending the remaining officers. One can’t be intimately involved in conducting an investigation and simultaneously claim to have no involvement. Imagine if any of them took the fifth. We now know Mosby’s claim that the Sheriff’s Department conducted the investigation was a lie. More, and more damaging revelations are sure to be forthcoming in the near future.
It is difficult at best to imagine any prosecution of the remaining officers. Take, for example, Sgt. White who had no involvement in Gray’s arrest. Her role was limited to checking on Gray because of citizen complaints about his arrest. She saw Gray only briefly prior to the final stop. Judge Williams has ruled that no one could have known Gray was in medical distress before that final stop. He has also ruled that failure to seat belt Gray was not the cause of his death, is not a crime, and does not rise to the level of proof necessary for any of the crimes charged. What possible evidence, what possible proof, is left to convict Sgt. White?
Will Schatzow, Bledsoe and Mosby be able to sublimate their egos and step aside so the long, hard process of rebuilding relationships and trust can begin? They’ve shown no such professional tendencies thus far.
By keeping the racial pot stirred, the prosecutions continue to cause incalculable damage. The BPD is already having serious difficulty recruiting officers, and officers are leaving the force in droves. The prosecutors, by their early statements, by their hijacking of the investigation, by their malicious behavior and most recently, by their unprofessional and unwise savaging of Det. Taylor in court, have destroyed the relationship between the prosecutor’s office and the BPD, damage that will take a generation, perhaps longer, to repair.
Mistrust between rank and file officers and their superiors, the city leadership, and the community is likewise out of control, and all of this contributes to the Ferguson Effect, not only in Baltimore, but throughout the nation. This wasn’t eased by City officials saying that now that Goodson has been acquitted, the Police Department will administratively get him. Of course they didn’t say “get him,” but that was the clear implication. He, and the other officers, even if acquitted, may find themselves fired, sacrifices to the perpetually aggrieved gods of social justice.
The careers of these officers are likely over, at least at the BPD. For newer, younger officers, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They may be able to cut ties and find jobs in law enforcement elsewhere. It’s a big country, but because of the notoriety of this case, that’s not a certainty, and the Obama DOJ is not going to let go of this crisis opportunity easily. Officers with more time, older officers, may find their hopes of a pension dashed. They’ll be forced out of law enforcement and their homes and communities with no obvious means of making a living, and all because they did their jobs properly.
Might Marilyn Mosby be thrown under the bus? It would be the politically expedient thing to do, but that is by no means certain. It depends on how much power the social justice faction retains and whether she is now seen as an asset or an albatross.
Some claim that the Baltimore PD is full of corruption. Perhaps, but I have no evidence to support that contention. I do know that every American police agency–with very few exceptions–is under citizen control, and such problems can be eradicated, but only if the politicians hired by the people are not themselves incompetent or corrupt. If they are, and particularly if the people keep hiring them or those like them, the people get precisely what they deserve. This may be seen in cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore that have been controlled by Democrats for decades.
And what of Freddie Gray? Made a holy, social justice martyr in death, like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown before him, when in life he was a criminal, drug user and dealer, a parasite rather than a producer, a man whose crimes harmed others, damaged their bodies and lives. This is the only photograph I’ve ever been able to find of Gray. There are no known photos of him as a smiling, cherubic adolescent, brimming with promise. How should he be remembered?
And so the battle between social justice and the rule of law continues, and Caesar Goodson–and the rest–is still caught up in it. There will be no winners, particularly not the poor, black residents of Baltimore.
July 7: Lt. Brian Rice
July 27: Off. Garrett Miller
Sept. 6: Off. William Porter (retrial, surely a bench trial)
Oct. 13: Sgt. Alicia White