Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore police officer acquitted of murder in the death of Freddie Gray will on Monday face the latest — and last — push to hold him accountable, as his police disciplinary trial for alleged violations of department policies begins at the University of Baltimore.
Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the driver of the police van in which the 25-year-old Gray suffered mortal spinal cord injuries in April 2015, faces more than 20 charges, according to a source familiar with the case.
The charges include providing a false statement about the circumstances surrounding Gray’s arrest, and neglecting his duty to keep Gray safe by failing to secure him in a seat belt, according to multiple sources familiar with the case.
The sources requested anonymity in order to speak freely about a pending legal matter.
Goodson, 48, has not spoken publicly about the case. He has always maintained his innocence. Two officers charged in Gray’s arrest and death have accepted department discipline. Goodson and two others are fighting the charges.
Goodson’s attorney, Sean Malone, said Goodson and his family are “near the end of a grueling 30-month process to clear his name,” and that he and his legal team “are prepared to provide a vigorous defense.”
Malone otherwise declined to comment, as did Goodson’s family.
William H. “Billy” Murphy, the attorney for the Gray family, also declined to comment.
City Solicitor Andre Davis said city and police officials have done everything in their power to ensure a fair process and he believes they have succeeded. He said he hoped Baltimore residents “pay attention to the proceedings” and come away with the same conclusion.
“We should accept the outcome of these proceedings however they go, because we have a process that is one that is rooted in fairness, transparency and impartiality,” he said.
A three-person trial board of Prince George’s County Police Maj. Rosa Guixens, Baltimore Police Maj. Steve Hohman and Baltimore Police Detective Ryan Diener will hear Goodson’s case, sources said.
Guixens, the commander of the Prince George’s County police district that includes College Park and Hyattsville, will chair the panel. Baltimore police officials said they sought an outside law enforcement official to chair the board to avoid the appearance of bias.
Hohman heads the Baltimore Police Department’s Special Investigations Section, which investigates sexual assaults, child abuse, missing persons and other domestic and economic crimes. Diener is a city homicide detective who has served on executive protection details, including one for former Commissioner Anthony Batts.
Guixens declined to comment. Hohman and Diener could not be reached for comment.
If the board finds Goodson guilty of any of the charges against him, it will use a standardized discipline matrix to recommend a punishment to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. Davis could then impose whatever administrative punishment he deems fit, up to and including termination.
The board can also clear Goodson, a decision the commissioner could not challenge.
Kevin Davis declined to comment on Goodson’s case. He said such disciplinary trials are “a process that’s established by law,” and his department is “being very thoughtful about adhering to the process.”
He acknowledged that some people “have a great deal of skepticism and doubt when it comes to police departments, in Baltimore or elsewhere, being able to faithfully and fairly make it through a process like this one.” He said he is committed to making that happen in this case.
Legal analysts said the arguments laid out in the disciplinary trial against Goodson will likely be familiar to anyone who followed the criminal cases that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s office brought in May 2015 against Goodson and the five other officers.
All six pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges. Goodson and two other officers were acquitted of all charges, and Mosby abandoned the prosecutions against the other three.
For the trial board, the burden on prosecutors is lighter: They may prove guilt by a preponderance of evidence, not the higher standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt required in criminal court.
Sources said each of the administrative charges against Goodson contains multiple specific instances in which Goodson violated the policy in question. In each case, prosecutors need prove only a single violation for the charge to be sustained.
Goodson, a member of the Baltimore Police Department since 1999, faced the most serious criminal charge of the six officers: second-degree depraved heart murder. He was also charged with manslaughter.
The other officers were charged with varying mixes of manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.
Prosecutors alleged Goodson gave Gray an intentional “rough ride,” ignored his requests for medical care and willfully put him in danger by failing to securing him with a seat belt despite the fact that he was handcuffed and shackled at the ankles.
Similar allegations, minus the “rough ride” theory, were levied against the other officers.
Goodson’s attorneys said Goodson deferred to other officers — including a supervisor — who took more active roles in Gray’s arrest. They also questioned Goodson’s training and awareness of the dangers of not securing a shackled detainee with a seat belt.
Circuit Judge Barry Williams acquitted Goodson, Lt. Brian Rice and Officer Edward Nero at bench trials, saying the state did not have enough evidence to convict them.
“The failure to seat-belt may have been a mistake or it may have been bad judgment, but without showing more than has been presented to the court concerning the failure to seat-belt and the surrounding circumstances, the state has failed to meet its burden to show that the actions of the defendant rose above mere civil negligence,” Williams said in Goodson’s case.
After the acquittals, Mosby dropped all remaining charges against Sgt. Alicia White and Officers William Porter and Garrett Miller.
The city had previously settled with the Gray family for $6.4 million.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which conducted its own investigation, said last month that it would not bring federal criminal charges against the officers.
That left the trial boards the last unresolved proceedings in the matter.
To avoid the appearance of bias, Commissioner Davis outsourced the internal reviews of the officers’ actions to police departments in Montgomery and Howard counties. Investigators in those agencies determined that all of the officers except Porter had violated policies.
Miller and Nero accepted “minor disciplinary action” and have returned to work, a police union attorney said.
Goodson, Rice and White, who face termination, are fighting the charges against them. All have trials scheduled at the University of Baltimore’s Learning Commons on Maryland Avenue. Goodson’s trial is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Monday and last through Friday. Rice’s trial is scheduled from Nov. 13 to Nov. 17; and White’s from Dec. 5 to Dec. 11.
State lawmakers changed the law last year to make such trials open to the public.
Vince Canales, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, said the trials are part of a “series of checks and balances” for adjudicating accusations of police misconduct in the state.
“We’re looking forward to the process playing out and seeing what the outcome winds up being,” he said.
Canales said he knows Guixens to be “conscientious and hard-working,” and believes she will “do her job in an ethical fashion.”
Prosecuting Goodson will be attorney Neil Duke, a litigator and former chair of the Baltimore school board who has a contract with the city law department and who has defended officers accused of misconduct in other cases. Duke did not respond to a request for comment.
City Solicitor Davis said law faculty from the University of Baltimore, which is hosting the trials, will provide independent legal advice to the trial board should it be needed during the trial.
David Jaros, a University of Baltimore law professor, said whatever the outcome, it’s likely many questions — such as what exactly happened to Gray in the back of the van — will remain unanswered, just as they did after the officers’ criminal trials.
“If the criminal trials were not sufficient to sort of clear up what happened on that terrible day,” he said, “this is not going to lead to any eye-opening new information.”