Baltimore police van driver not guilty of 21 charges in Freddie Gray case

Kevin Rector
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. was found not guilty Tuesday of all 21 administrative charges against him in the 2015 arrest and death of Freddie Gray.

The verdict absolves Goodson once and for all in the high-profile case, and allows him to continue his career in the city police force.

Goodson, 48, the driver of the police van in which Gray was found with severe and ultimately fatal spinal cord injuries in April 2015, had faced possible termination if any of the charges against him was sustained. He was charged with neglecting his duty by failing to ensure Gray’s safety, including by not securing a handcuffed and shackled Gray in a seat belt and not calling Gray a medic after he requested one. He was also charged with making false statements to investigators.

The decision clearing him of all charges, which was unanimous among the three law enforcement officials who presided over the six-day administrative trial, follows his acquittal on all charges, including second-degree depraved-heart murder, at a separate criminal trial last year.

“This is a vindication of this officer,” said Sean Malone, one of Goodson’s attorneys, shortly after the verdict was read during a brief reconvening of the panel at the University of Baltimore on Tuesday afternoon. “This is a tragic accident that happened, and we’re sorry for the loss of Mr. Gray, but we’re glad that our client is not going to be the face of this incident.”

No challenges: The panel’s decision is final and cannot be challenged by the city or the Police Department.

Malone said Goodson did not want to comment himself but intends to “take care of his family” by continuing his 18-year career with the department until retirement.

“Officer Goodson is just ready to get on. This is three years. He had a murder charge over his head, he’s had this over his head. He’s a quiet man, he’s a hardworking man, he’s just happy to resume his life,” Malone said. “This has been hard on him and his family, and it’s nice to get his life back.”

In delivering the verdict, Prince George’s County Police Maj. Rosa Guixens, the chair of the panel, read out “not guilty” 21 times in a row before abruptly closing the proceedings.

Goodson was stoic until the very last “not guilty” was read out, when he broke into a smile. He then hugged his attorneys, who congratulated each other and slapped one another on the back.

Outside the hearing room, Goodson’s father, Caesar Goodson Sr., who had sat through the entire trial, said “the family is glad it’s over.”

“My son is a good son and a good officer,” he said. “We hope no other officer has to go through that.”

“He’s a working-class man, and he’s going to work hard and finish his career with honor,” Malone said. Malone said Goodson was “wrongfully charged,” and the panel made the correct decision.

William H. “Billy” Murphy, the Gray family’s attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment. The city previously reached a $6.4 million settlement with Gray’s family.

Not surprising: Lawrence Grandpre, of a local grass-roots think tank, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, and an advocate for police reform, watched the proceedings and said the verdict did not come as a surprise.

“It’s nothing unexpected. We’ve been trying to reform these trial boards for three or four years,” he said, noting his organization’s efforts to add citizens to the panels.

Grandpre said he is concerned officers serving on the panels are partial to the officers who they have been tasked with passing judgment on, because “they are thinking, ‘That could be me.’”

Guixens declined to comment after the verdict, as did another member, Baltimore Police Detective Ryan Diener, who investigates homicides. The third panel member, Baltimore Police Maj. Steve Hohman, head of the Special Investigations Section that investigates sex crimes, could not be reached.

Gray, 25, was found unconscious and suffering from severe spinal cord injuries in the back of the van after a circuitous ride in the van and died a week later.

Goodson also faced charges that he made false statements to detectives from Montgomery and Howard counties who conducted an outside investigation into Gray’s death on behalf of the city and the Police Department, and that he failed to properly document his actions on the day of Gray’s arrest.

Goodson is the first officer to face a trial board in the case.

Others charged: Six officers were charged criminally in the Gray case; none was convicted. Goodson, Lt. Brian Rice and Officer Edward Nero were all acquitted at bench trials, and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby then dropped all remaining charges against the other three officers.

Five of those officers were subsequently charged administratively in the case. Two — Nero and Officer Garrett Miller — have accepted “minor” discipline in the case and are back at work with the department, according to a police union attorney. Under Maryland law, punishments officers receive are kept private.

Two others — Rice and Sgt. Alicia White — are fighting the charges against them.

Rice’s administrative trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 13. White’s is scheduled to begin Dec. 5.

Malone, Goodson’s attorney, said Monday that the panel’s decision to clear Goodson on all charges should make the city reconsider the still-pending administrative charges against Rice and White.

“I think the department has an obligation to take a look at the remaining charges with these officers and determine if they want to go forward based on the evidence that simply has not been put forth,” Malone said.

City and police officials gave no indication Tuesday that they were reconsidering the charges against Rice or White.


The Baltimore Sun’s Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.