- Doug Colbert
professor of law at the University of Maryland School of Law. He’s also the director of the Access to Justice pretrial clinic and founder of the Lawyers at Bail Project, which represents more than 4,000 indigent defendants at bail hearings. In 2013, Colbert helped win a seven-year class action suit that guaranteed indigent defendants their constitutional right to counsel when first appearing before a judicial officer.
- Joshua Harris
Baltimore’s Green Party candidate for mayor and a co-founder of Hollins Creative Placemaking, an art-focused community development organization.
A second police officer in Baltimore has been acquitted on all charges for his role in the arrest of Freddie Gray, who died of spinal injuries last year after he was arrested and transported in a police van. Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., who was driving the van, faced the most serious charges of all officers involved, including second-degree depraved-heart murder and three additional charges of manslaughter. Prosecutors contended Goodson gave Gray a “rough ride,” failed to ensure his safety, and should have called for a medic. We get reaction from Doug Colbert, professor of law at the University of Maryland School of Law, director of the Access to Justice pretrial clinic and founder of the Lawyers at Bail Project, as well as Joshua Harris, Baltimore’s Green Party candidate for mayor.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We end today’s show in Baltimore, where a second police officer was acquitted on all charges for his role in the arrest of Freddie Gray, who died of spinal injuries last year after he was arrested and transported in a police van. Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., who was driving the van, faced the most serious charges of all officers involved, including second-degree depraved-indifference murder and three additional charges of manslaughter. Billy Murphy, the Gray family attorney, responded to the verdict.
BILLY MURPHY: Can you imagine how hard this has been for this family, particularly Freddie’s mother? It’s been very, very difficult. Can you imagine losing a son under circumstances shrouded basically in secrecy? Can you imagine the frustration that nobody yet has been found culpable or liable for something that somebody did? So, this is a very frustrating experience for mama and for daddy and for the rest of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Caesar Goodson was one of six officers charged in Gray’s death and the third to go on trial. Officer Edward Nero was acquitted of all four misdemeanor charges last month. Officer William Porter was the first officer to go to trial, charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. In December, Judge Williams declared a mistrial in Porter’s case after jurors were unable to reach a verdict on any of the charges after three days of deliberation.
For more, we’re joined by Doug Colbert, professor of law at the University of Maryland School of Law. Also, Joshua Harris, Baltimore’s Green Party candidate for mayor.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Doug Colbert, let’s begin with you. The significance—now, this was a bench trial, right? Caesar Goodson was charged with the most serious charge, second-degree—and can you explain “heart murder”?
DOUGLAS COLBERT: Sure, Amy, but it’s important keep in context that—how rare it is for police officers to be charged with homicide throughout our country. There’s been approximately 10,000 people killed while in police custody during the last 10 years, and only 54 have made it to trial, and only four have been convicted. So, it’s exceedingly rare. And what we’re seeing here in Baltimore is a local prosecutor who conducted an independent investigation because she was well aware of the likely outcome if police investigated themselves. And the prosecution presented a very strong case against Officer Porter in the first trial, nearly convicting him of two charges.
And yesterday’s trial concluded with an acquittal. But in my opinion, they once again presented a strong case, and that would include the depraved indifference, as well as the reckless homicide and the other assault and misconduct charges. And that’s because Officer Goodson was under a duty to safeguard and protect a prisoner, Freddie Gray, while in his van. That’s his job to do. And he left Freddie Gray handcuffed and shackled on the floor of a van, inches away from banging his head against the metal insides of that van. And when we look at that situation and we see Officer Goodson time and again standing outside the van, never going inside, never checking on his prisoner, never asking anything that would allow him to call for a medic, go to a hospital, put some seat belts on him, something that would help protect Freddie Gray, that’s where—if you look at that four or five times he had opportunity to do it, that’s where the depraved indifference comes in, as well as being aware of the risk and consciously disregarding it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Joshua Harris, I want to get your response to the verdict and also to the calls by some who say that the state’s attorney should not continue to prosecute the remaining officers now that she’s had two acquittals and one hung jury.
JOSHUA HARRIS: I don’t think that the verdict was a surprise. This is a complicated case. And I also believe that the state’s attorney should continue with the remaining cases. We also know that the officers that are coming up, the trials that will be preceding us, are the officers that first initiated contact with Mr. Gray. And so, I think that it’s extremely important for us to see this trial come forward, and the evidence be submitted, and see the outcome of it. I think that many citizens in Baltimore are not surprised. I think that they understand that justice for Baltimore extends far beyond Freddie Gray. Justice for Baltimore is about Tyrone West, who occurred before Freddie Gray, two years prior. Justice for Baltimore is understanding the racial divides, the class divides and the economic impoverishment that exists in Baltimore, that has created the conditions for situations like Freddie Gray to exist here in the city.
AMY GOODMAN: Joshua Harris, the first trial, the hung jury, was a jury trial; next two, bench trials, acquitted. Talk about the strategy here that the police are using.
JOSHUA HARRIS: Well, I think that the police understand that they have more—a better chance with a judge, dealing with a judge directly, than with dealing with a jury of Baltimoreans, who understand that there’s a history of police brutality. Unfortunately, we’ve created a culture that has been accepted, where police have not been held accountable or responsible for their actions here in Baltimore City. And they understand that they’re more likely to go directly with the judge giving the outcome, versus Baltimoreans, who understand what’s happened here, what’s happened historically here in the city.
AMY GOODMAN: Doug Colbert, finally, if you could comment on a Supreme Court decision that came down on—earlier this week, that has to do with police powers, where Judge Sonia Sotomayor quoted everyone from Ta-Nehisi Coates of Baltimore to Michelle Alexander?
DOUGLAS COLBERT: Yeah, well, Freddie Gray was really charged with running from the police. I mean, he committed no crime. He was charged with no crime. And another Supreme Court case gave the police reasonable suspicion to go after Freddie Gray. This case was even more deplorable, Amy, because what’s done now is that police can literally stop you, detain you, investigate whether you have any outstanding warrants, without any belief that you do have a warrant. So police can now stop—if they find a warrant—and they found one for the Utah man for failing to pay a traffic fine—then they can arrest you and do a full-blown search. And Justice Sotomayor really took on Justice Thomas’s majority opinion. And—
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to leave it there right now, but we’re going to continue the conversation post-show and post it online at democracynow.org. Doug Colbert, professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, and Joshua Harris, Baltimore’s Green Party candidate for mayor, thanks so much, both, for joining us.
I’ll be speaking Saturday at the WAM!NYC Gender Justice in Media Conference at Barnard College at 4:00 p.m. Check democracynow.org. Democracy Now! has two job openings: news producer and senior video producer. Check Democracy Now!