The Baltimore police officer who drove the van in which Freddie Gray suffered fatal injuries to his spinal cord last April has been found not guilty of murder. He was also cleared of all the other charges he faced, including manslaughter.
Caesar Goodson Jr. was one of six officers charged by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby in connection with Gray’s death, and he is the third whose trial has ended without a conviction. Though Mosby’s decision to pursue the case as aggressively as she did was hailed by some as an act of political bravery at the time, the difficulty her office has had so far in proving any of the charges has cast her decision in a different light.
Gray, whose death inspired days of protests in Baltimore and became a flashpoint for the Black Lives Matter movement, was arrested after fleeing from police and placed in the back of a van with his hands and legs shackled. Police did not buckle his seatbelt, a decision that prosecutors said Goodson was ultimately responsible for as the van driver.
Prosecutors accused Goodson of giving Gray a “rough ride” while transporting him to jail, and thereby causing the injuries that led to Gray’s death a week later. But the eight-day trial that ended Thursday revealed that none of the prosecution’s witnesses could confidently state, based on video footage of the van’s journey through West Baltimore, that Goodson had made any of the sudden stops or sharp turns that are typically associated with rough rides. (In the New York Times, Baltimore lawyer A. Dwight Pettit defined a rough ride as "basically the police driving in such a manner to inflict injury or pain on the person being transported.")
In theory, the case against Goodson was probably the strongest of the six that Mosby filed in connection with Gray’s death. Even so, it was widely believed by legal experts that the prosecution lacked the evidence to secure a murder conviction, which required them to prove that Goodson had acted “with extreme disregard of the life-endangering consequences.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, the next trial stemming from Gray’s death will focus on Lt. Brian Rice, who has been charged with manslaughter. It is scheduled to begin July 7.