Baltimore prosecutors alleged Thursday that the police officer driving the van in which Freddie Gray was fatally injured gave him an intentional "rough ride," saying that video shows the driver running a stop sign and crossing the center line.
The accusation was made by Chief Deputy State's Atty. Michael Schatzow in opening arguments at the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., as prosecutors seek to convict him of second-degree depraved-heart murder, three counts of manslaughter and other charges.
Goodson's lead defense attorney, Andrew Graham, said prosecutors can't prove their case. He said testimony will show that the medical examiner initially believed Gray's death to be a "freakish accident," and said the defense would dispute the timeline of the injuries by calling Donta Allen, the second man who was in the back of the van.
Graham described Goodson as a good cop and docile person and said prosecutors have overreached by charging him and his fellow officers.
"An accident can be just an accident, and the cause can be the person himself," Graham said. He closed his statement by saying, "Freddie Gray's death was a tragedy, but asking to convict a good officer to satisfy a desire to have someone to blame will just make a tragic situation worse."
The opening arguments came after a 90-minute hearing in which Circuit Judge Barry Williams, who will decide Goodson's fate instead of a jury, blasted prosecutors for failing to disclose a meeting they had with Allen last year at which they did not take notes.
Goodson is the third officer to come to trial in Gray's death. Last month, Officer Edward Nero, who participated in Gray's initial arrest and helped load him into the police van, was acquitted of all charges by Williams.
Before that, the trial of Officer William Porter resulted in a hung jury. Porter is slated to be tried again, but will be called as a witness by prosecutors at Goodson's trial to support their contention that officers had multiple opportunities to help a severely injured Gray and didn't take action.
Porter testified at his own trial that Gray did not show clear signs of injury, but also that he told Goodson that Gray should be taken for medical attention.
In both prior cases, police and expert witnesses testified that officers routinely ignored agency rules directing that detainees be secured with a seat belt and said the ultimate responsibility fell to the van driver.
Schatzow said Goodson was "never in any danger from" Gray and had no reason not to belt him into his seat.
Failing to do so caused his injuries, Schatzow said.
"He was injured because he got a 'rough ride,'" Schatzow told the judge. “He was injured because of the way the officer transported him."
The prosecutor said video shows the van turning from Riggs Avenue onto Fremont Avenue and running a stop sign. Goodson then stops the van, gets out and goes to the back and looks in on Gray.
"He knows Mr. Gray has been injured" at that point, Schatzow alleged. He noted that Goodson did not call in to tell dispatchers that he was making the stop, though his next move was to ask for another officer to come help him check on Gray.
Graham contended that the call for help showed Goodson harbored no bad intent toward Gray, which he said is required for prosecutors to prove the charges against him.
"I guarantee you, I know the law," Williams interjected.
Graham said several officers were involved in loading Gray into the van and Goodson was not among them. The attorney said that at various points Goodson deferred to the directions of supervisors, such as when he went to pick up another prisoner instead of taking Gray to a hospital.
Graham said that when police officers put Gray stomach-first on the floor of the van, they had placed him in what they deemed was a safe position, "if Mr. Gray had just stayed there." Graham said Gray had faked an injury and caused a scene during his arrest, and officers were wary of getting too close to him inside the cramped quarters of the van.
He said there was no evidence that Goodson was aware of any medical problems requiring prompt attention.
Graham also alleged that the medical examiner who performed Gray's autopsy believed at first that he had died as a result of an accident, but changed her opinion after working with prosecutors "under a very pressurized situation."
Allen told police on April 12, the day of Gray's arrest and seven days before he died, that Gray had been thrashing around and bashing his head into a partition inside the van. Allen later publicly recanted, saying he only heard a faint tapping.
At the morning hearing prior to the trial, Williams determined that prosecutors had committed a violation by not disclosing a meeting they had with Allen in May 2015, in the presence of his attorney. The attorney disclosed the meeting to defense attorneys last week, who said that information had been improperly withheld.
Schatzow told Williams that the meeting was unproductive and that Allen maintained both versions of his story were valid. He said prosecutors didn't believe they were required to alert the defense to such a meeting.
Williams told Schatzow his position was wrong and said he was concerned that other information might have been withheld.
"I'm not saying you did anything nefarious. I'm saying you don't understand what 'exculpatory' means," Williams said, referring to the type of information prosecutors must disclose to the defense. "My concern becomes, what else is out there that you didn't turn over?"
Williams, who has twice previously ruled that prosecutors failed to turn over information in the case, told prosecutors that they would have the weekend to review their cases and reveal anything that hasn't been disclosed.
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