2nd Acquittal In Freddie Gray Case Is A Blow To Baltimore Prosecutors

Jun 24, 2016
Originally published on June 24, 2016 3:05 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's turn now to Baltimore, where another acquittal in the Freddie Gray case is a big blow to prosecutors. The driver of the van in which Gray suffered a fatal neck injury last year has been found not guilty on all counts. Some are now calling for the state to drop charges against other officers in this case. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has more.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: After the verdict yesterday, small groups of protesters outside the courthouse, waved signs alleging racism, condemned the ruling as a modern day lynching, called for killer cops to go to jail.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting) They would sooner die themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) They would sooner die themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting) They would sooner take a bullet.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) They would sooner take a bullet.

LUDDEN: Legal analysts saw officer Caesar Goodson as prosecutor's best chance for a conviction. But Judge Barry Williams said he found no evidence that Goodson drove the police van in a reckless way or that he knew Freddie Gray was in medical distress. His neck and spine injury was internal, he said. The judge did find there was one point when Goodson clearly could have safely seatbelted Gray in the van. But failing to do so was not criminal conduct. In Gray's West Baltimore neighborhood, child care worker Shanta Miller seemed resigned to the verdict.

SHANTA MILLER: No, I'm not surprised. I just think it was a sad case. You know, somebody should have been held responsible. But that's pretty much how it goes with our African-American people.

LUDDEN: Goodson is the third officer to be tried for Gray's death with no conviction. One trial ended in a hung jury. Another officer was acquitted. As the judge read out each verdict, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby sat in the front row across from him, looking down, shaking her head. Soon after, The Baltimore Sun published an editorial aimed at her. It calls on Mosby to reconsider charges against other officers still facing trial, one in less than two weeks. Defense attorney Warren Alperstein's been following the case closely. He says the defense will now have a strong argument.

WARREN ALPERSTEIN: Wow, if Officer Goodson, who's charged with the most serious crimes, being the wagon driver for failing to seek medical assistance - if he's acquitted, one can make the argument that it bodes well for the remaining officers.

LUDDEN: Still, despite more than a week of testimony, the judge said it is simply not known exactly how Gray suffered a fatal injury in the back of the police van. David Jaros teaches law at the University of Baltimore.

DAVID JAROS: One should not conclude by the fact that there was an acquittal that that means the judge found that officer Goodson's actions were appropriate or justified.

LUDDEN: Jaros says if criminal prosecutions can't solve police misconduct, then policymakers must look elsewhere.

JAROS: This is a problem that I think the entire nation is grappling with, from Ferguson to Staten Island to Chicago. And we have to grapple with how do we make the community, particularly poor minority communities, feel safe and be policed in the way that they deserve to be policed?

LUDDEN: Tawanda Jones says she's up for that long fight. She's been holding weekly protests for more than a year, for Gray and others. Her brother died during a police arrest three years ago.

TAWANDA JONES: So what happens now is we need to set the tone to change things. We need to change these laws, hold people accountable because at the end of the day, there is no justice. It's just us seeking accountability.

LUDDEN: Jones plans to lobby state lawmakers again next session, pressing for reforms to hold police accountable, even though she says she's not optimistic that will happen in her lifetime. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.