A “rough ride” expert witness testified for prosecutors charging a Baltimore Police Officer in the high profile death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody last August. Six members of the Baltimore PD were charged with felonies ranging from assault to second-degree murder, but prosecutors have so far been unable to earn convictions against two of the officers. The state rested its case against the third officer after presenting its rough ride expert witness and the trial will resume later this week.
Third Officer Stands Trial for Death of Freddie Gray
The trial for Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the officer who drove the police van in which Freddie Gray died, began earlier this month and featured more than 20 witnesses called by prosecutors who have charged Goodson with second-degree murder, manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office for alleged reckless driving which caused Gray, who was unbuckled in the back of the vehicle, to suffer a fatal spine injury. According to prosecutors, Goodson Jr. failed to secure Gray with a seatbelt and intentionally drove in a reckless and dangerous manner in retaliation for Gray’s attitude and resistance to police authority.
Goodson has pled not guilty to the charges, and maintains that he did not act inconsistent with department regulations in either his actions towards Gray or his driving tactics. Defense attorneys for Goodson have argued that there is no evidence of the officer intentionally subjecting Gray to a rough ride, and as such the state cannot meet its evidentiary burden of proof necessary to earn a conviction. Goodson is the third of six Baltimore Police who will face trial for Freddie Gray’s death. William Porter, the first officer to be charged, had his case end with a mistrial in December and Edward Nero, a bike officer on the scene, was acquitted last month.
The case will not be heard by a jury because Goodson, like the two officers before him, elected to receive a verdict from the judge.
Rough Ride Expert Testifies for Prosecutors
Stanford O’Neill Franklin, a retired police trooper who has overseen transportation training for the Baltimore Police Department, took the stand as a police rough ride expert witness to explain the concept of “retaliatory prisoner transportation” designed to make a post-arrest ride uncomfortable and even dangerous. According to Franklin, suspects who are unsecured but shackled in a police van are prone to becoming “projectiles” if the officer driving the vehicle engages in reckless or dangerous behavior. Franklin told the court, “It’s extremely important that the ride be as smooth as possible to prevent the person in the back from being propelled around the inside,” and testified that officers are forbidden from intentionally driving erratically as retaliation to unpleasant behavior from the suspect.
During cross examination, defense attorney Matthew Fraling directly asked Franklin if Goodson had submitted Gray to a rough ride. Franklin responded, “I can’t say for sure” after going over the evidence of the path the vehicle took while Gray was in the back. Franklin did say that Goodson should probably have buckled Gray in given the fact that the suspect did not appear to a danger to officers after his arrest, but conceded that it is unclear if Gray would have been adequately secured with the seat belt on.
Franklin’s admission that he could not say whether or not Gray was subject to a rough ride by Goodson could be a blow to the prosecution’s case, as the expert’s comments echo testimony from two other state witnesses – a police officer and another defendant who shared the ride with Gray – that there was insufficient evidence to conclude the ride featured abrupt stops and was not smooth.
Defense Attorneys for Baltimore Police Officer Request Dismissal
At the conclusion of the testimony of the prosecution’s rough ride expert witness, attorneys representing Caesar Goodson Jr. requested the judge dismiss all charges due to insufficient evidence of illegal police conduct. Pointing to Franklin’s uncertainty regarding the nature of ride during which Gray died, defense attorneys argued there is strong cause to doubt the contention that Goodson caused Gray’s death. Prosecutors, who have relied heavily on their rough ride theory, may still be able to demonstrate that Goodson violated the law during his treatment of Gray before the ride, but the case seems harder to prove after their expert’s testimony.
If the charges against Goodson are not dismissed, the case will continue this week with the defense presenting its version of events. Later this month Officer Porter will likely face a re-trial, and the remaining officers – Officer Garret Miller, Lt. Brian Rice, and Sgt. Alicia White – will see their trials in July and October.