BALTIMORE — A Baltimore police officer who was acquitted of criminal charges in the death of a suspect while in custody is now fighting an administrative procedure that could cost him his job.
Officer Caesar Goodson is facing a police disciplinary board hearing over the death of Freddie Gray, who sustained fatal spinal cord injuries while being transported in a police van in April 2015. Goodson was the driver of the van.
Attorney Neil Duke, who is representing the Baltimore Police Department, said on the first day of the hearing that Goodson should be fired after failing in his duty by not fastening the 25-year-old Gray in his seatbelt after he was arrested. Duke also said Goodson failed to interact with Gray and did not take him to a hospital, as Gray had requested.
The case, Duke said, boils down to whether Goodson followed police policies.
“The evidence will show that he did not,” Duke told a three-member disciplinary board in opening statements Monday.
Sean Malone, an attorney representing Goodson, said the department is to blame for failing to properly spread word of a recent rule change that required prisoners to be secured with a seatbelt while being transported. He also said Goodson was working in one of the most violent parts of a violent city, and a crowd had gathered as officers put Gray in the van.
“There is no general order that requires you to get hurt,” Malone said.
Malone also said equipment in the van was inadequate and had a broken camera, which would have enabled Goodson to view Gray in the back of the van. Malone said it was the department administrators, not his client, who fell short of fulfilling responsibilities.
“They violated a responsibility, but they’re not sitting at the table,” Malone said. “Officer Goodson is.”
Attorneys and the three-member disciplinary board spent most of the day listening to a February interrogation of Goodson by internal investigators. The Baltimore Police Department asked investigators from the Montgomery and Howard County police departments to conduct the internal investigations and all but Porter faced discipline ranging from suspensions to termination.
Duke focused on questions Goodson was asked by investigators about why he didn’t take Gray to a hospital after Gray asked for medical attention soon after he was arrested and banged around in the back of the van without a seatbelt during six stops, including the police station.
Duke repeatedly asked Det. Thomas Curtis, one of the investigators, about whether Goodson indicated he had made an effort to access Gray’s condition at various points of the ride. Curtis responded, “No.” Duke also asked Curtis whether Goodson indicated Gray was acting violently with another officer along the route to the station. Curtis again said, “No.”
Goodson told investigators he simply could not see a need to take Gray to a hospital by looking at him. In his 14 years as a police van driver, Goodson said he thought he could tell by looking whether someone needed medical help or whether “they’re lying” to avoid jail.
“I didn’t see anything that would concern me,” Goodson told investigators during the interrogation.
Gray died of a spinal cord injury about a week after his arrest. He had been handcuffed and shackled, but left unrestrained by a seat belt. His death touched off protests and rioting in Baltimore.
The hearing is expected to last about five days. The board is made up of two members of the Baltimore Police Department and a chairman who is a member of a police department other than Baltimore’s. The board will ultimately decide whether the officer should be disciplined and what the punishment would be.
Six officers were charged in Gray’s death. Goodson had faced the most serious charge — murder. Goodson, Officer Edward Nero and Lt. Brian Rice were acquitted at trial last year. After the acquittals, prosecutors dropped the charges against the remaining three officers, Sgt. Alicia White, and officers Garrett Miller and William Porter.
Nero and Miller recently accepted disciplinary action, according to the police union attorney who represents them. Neither their attorney nor the department would say what kind of discipline they faced.