BALTIMORE – Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. was found not guilty Tuesday of all 21 administrative charges against him in the 2015 arrest and death of Freddie Gray.
The verdict absolves Goodson once and for all in the high-profile case, and allows him to continue his career on the police department, reported The Baltimore Sun.
Goodson, 48, was the driver of the police van in which Gray was found with severe and ultimately fatal spinal cord injuries in April 2015. As a result of the political bedlam revolving around the case, he faced possible termination if any of the charges against him was sustained. He was charged with neglecting his duty by failing to ensure Gray’s safety, including by not securing a handcuffed and shackled Gray in a seat belt and not calling a medic for Gray after he requested one. Moreover, he was also charged with making false statements to investigators.
The decision clearing him of all charges was unanimous among the three law enforcement officials who presided over the six-day administrative trial. His exoneration comes after of the acquittal on all criminal charges, including second-degree depraved-heart murder, at a separate trial last year.
“This is a vindication of this officer,” said Sean Malone, one of Goodson’s attorneys, shortly after the verdict was read during a brief reconvening of the panel at the University of Baltimore. “This is a tragic accident that happened, and we’re sorry for the loss of Mr. Gray, but we’re glad that our client is not going to be the face of this incident.”
The panel’s decision is final. Consequently, the city or the police department cannot challenge it.
Nevertheless, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, in a statement, said the department “will stay the course” with the upcoming trial boards for two other officers charged administratively in the case.
“Freddie Gray died in police custody. My thoughts and prayers remain with the Gray family,” Davis said. “We will continue to make improvements within our organization to meet the expectations of constitutional policing demanded by our community.”
The administrative trial of Lt. Brian Rice is scheduled to start Monday, and the trial of Sgt. Alicia White is slated for Dec. 5.
Citing the remaining cases, Mayor Catherine Pugh said it would be inappropriate for her to comment on the panel’s decision.
The city previously reached a $6.4 million civil settlement with Gray’s family.
Malone said Goodson intends to “take care of his family” by continuing his 18-year career with the department until retirement.
“Officer Goodson is just ready to get on. This is three years. He had a murder charge over his head, he’s had this over his head. He’s a quiet man, he’s a hard-working man, he’s just happy to resume his life,” Malone said. “This has been hard on him and his family, and it’s nice to get his life back.”
In delivering the verdict, Prince George’s County Police Maj. Rosa Guixens, the chair of the panel, read out “not guilty” 21 times in a row before abruptly closing the proceedings.
Goodson was stoic until the last “not guilty” was read, when he finally broke into a smile. Afterward, he hugged his attorneys, who congratulated each other.
Outside the hearing room, Goodson’s father, Caesar Goodson Sr., who had sat through the entire trial, said, “the family is glad it’s over.”
“My son is a good son and a good officer,” he said. “We hope no other officer has to go through that.”
Goodson has maintained his innocence, saying in a statement to investigators aired for the first time at his administrative trial that he did not believe it was safe for him to climb into the van to secure Gray in a seat belt, and that he did not believe Gray was injured or needed medical care when he requested it.
After the verdict Tuesday, Malone said Goodson had been “wrongfully charged” from the start. He echoed his arguments at trial that Goodson had acted in good faith, as any reasonable officer would have under the circumstances.
Malone and fellow attorney Thomas Tompsett Jr. argued at the trial that the police department had failed to properly train or equip Goodson — and all of its officers — to handle non-compliant detainees. Furthermore, he argued that Goodson had deferred to his supervisors and other officers who had been more directly involved in loading Gray into the van and deciding not to secure him in a seat belt.
The police union applauded the panel’s decision. Its president, Lt. Gene Ryan, said in a statement that while Gray’s death was “an extremely unfortunate incident,” no officers were responsible.
“Officer Goodson can now turn the page on from this chapter in his life and continue his career with the Baltimore Police Department,” Ryan said.
Malone said the panel’s decision to clear his client should make the city reconsider the remaining cases.
“The department has an obligation to take a look at the remaining charges with these officers and determine if they want to go forward based on the evidence that simply has not been put forth,” he said.
(Photo: Screenshot Baltimore Sun video)