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Baltimore Police Officer Found Not Guilty In Death Of Freddie Gray


There was disappointment and frustration outside a Baltimore courthouse today.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray.

SHAPIRO: That's the sound of protesters after another police officer was found not guilty in the death of Freddie Gray, the young black man who died a week after his arrest last year. Caesar Goodson was the driver of the police van in which prosecutors say Gray suffered his fatal neck injury. Gray had been placed in the van with his hands cuffed and feet shackled but no seat belt.

Of six officers charged, Goodson faced the most serious counts including second degree murder. But in a bench trial, a judge said the state had not proved its case. NPR's Jennifer Ludden was in court for today's verdict. And she joins us now from Baltimore. Hi, Jennifer.


SHAPIRO: What did we hear from the judge today?

LUDDEN: Well, Judge Williams said that he was presented with several equally plausible scenarios in this trial but that we still really don't know exactly how and at what point in the van ride Freddie Gray broke his neck - that proved fatal. The judge also said that he watched a key point in a closed-circuit video of this van making a turn at a certain point.

He watched 15 times to look for signs of rough or careless driving and just did not see it. Warren Alperstein is a local defense lawyer who's been watching this case. He was in court today. And here's his take.

WARREN ALPERSTEIN: I think what Judge Williams was trying to do is let the citizens of Baltimore, the nation and everybody that's watching this that he really understands this case. He deliberated for many days, and he thought of every scenario possible. And none of it was adding up to a conviction, in his mind.

LUDDEN: Another key point, Ari, the judge said Gray's neck and spine injuries were internal so that there's no way Officer Goodson could have known he was in medical distress. And as for seat belting, officers do have discretion on that.

SHAPIRO: You know, on the day that Freddie Gray's funeral was held last year, there were protests that turned violent in Baltimore near his neighborhood. We heard a little from the protest outside of the court today. What else did you hear from people in the city of Baltimore after this ruling was handed down?

LUDDEN: Yeah, there was a small group of protesters outside the courthouse where I am now, and they plan more demonstrations. We also spoke with people in Freddie Gray's neighborhood. A Natasha Lane has joined some past protests. When we told her that today's verdict was not guilty, she said she really was not surprised.

NATASHA LANE: It's really sad. There's no justice. What are we supposed to do at a certain point, you know? We follow the rules, we get in trouble. We don't follow the rules, we get in trouble. There's no win-win, so, you know, it's kind of like, what did we really expect, you know, from the justice system?

LUDDEN: So widespread skepticism there. Other demonstrators said there really needs to be systemic reform. One woman told me she's going to keep lobbying lawmakers for more measures to hold police accountable, even though she said that she's not optimistic this will actually happen in her lifetime.

SHAPIRO: Talk about what this means for the prosecutor Marilyn Mosby. She was initially praised by some for charging six officers in this case. Critics accuse her of playing politics, though, rushing the charges without enough evidence. What does this acquittal today mean for her and for the other officers still facing trial?

LUDDEN: There are already calls to re-evaluate those charges against the other officers from the police officers' union - no surprise there - but also a harsh editorial in the Baltimore Sun this afternoon. The Sun also wonders if Mosby's damaged the relationship between prosecutors and police. There were a lot of tensions between them during this trial.

We're just going to have to see if the other trials go ahead. But a lot of legal analysts say that after Goodson's acquittal, it's kind of hard to see how the other officers will be convicted.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Jennifer Ludden joining us from the street in Baltimore. You can hear those sirens going on behind her. Thank you, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.