A judge has acquitted a police van driver of all charges in the death of black detainee Freddie Gray.
The 25-year-old’s broken neck on the way to the police station set off Baltimore’s worst riots in decades.
Six officers were charged in Gray’s death, but only Officer Caesar Goodson was accused of murder.
Gray was fatally injured after officers bound his hands and feet and Goodson left him unprotected by a seatbelt that prosecutors say would have kept him from slamming into the van’s metal walls.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams delivered his verdict after hearing five days of evidence. He also found Goodson not guilty of manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment.
Williams ruled the state failed to show that Goodson knew he had cause harm to Gray by leaving him unbuckled, or that Goodson was aware Gray was injured and intentionally failed to call a medic.
“Unlike in a shooting or a stabbing, or a car accident, this injury manifests itself internally,” judge Williams said, citing conflicting evidence from medical experts.
He continued: “If the doctors weren’t clear, how would a person without medical training know?”
He also said the state failed to prove that Goodson gave Gray a “rough ride”.
“The state had a duty to show the defendant corruptly failed in his duty, not just that he made a mistake,” the judge said.
Protests and rioting after Gray’s death on April 19, 2015, set the city on fire. The unrest forced the city’s mayor to abandon her re-election campaign, and the department of justice opened an investigation into allegations of police abuse.
Prosecutors said Goodson was criminally negligent when he failed to buckle Gray into a seatbelt or call for medical aid after Gray indicated he wanted to go to a hospital.
But Goodson would not talk to investigators or take the stand at trial, leaving the state with slim evidence of intent to harm.
The acquittal of Goodson, 46, is perhaps the most significant blow to state attorney Marilyn Mosby’s efforts to hold police accountable for Gray’s death.
Last month, the same judge acquitted Officer Edward Nero of misdemeanor charges, and in December, he declared a mistrial after a jury failed to agree on manslaughter and other charges against Officer William Porter.
Porter faces a retrial in September, and three other officers have yet to be tried.
Gray was arrested on April 12 after running from an officer on bike patrol outside a public housing project. A neighbour’s video showed him handcuffed behind his back and hoisted into Goodson’s van.
The van made a total of six stops that day, and Gray was unresponsive on arrival at the station house 45 minutes later. Prosecutors said Goodson was there throughout and checked on Gray during the third and fourth stops, so he should have known Gray was in distress. They said his failure to call a medic amounts to murder.
A prosecution expert testified Gray could not possibly have broken his own neck. Prosecutors said the injury happened between the second and fourth stops, when Goodson and Porter lifted Gray off the floor.
Porter said in evidence that Gray was lethargic, but could breathe and speak, and did not seem injured. Prosecutors countered that the initial injury became critical as the trip continued.
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