Judge blasts prosecutors as police van driver’s trial begins

BALTIMORE (AP) — The judge in the trial of an officer charged in the death of a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken in the back of a police van blasted prosecutors on Thursday for withholding information from the defense.

In a hearing before Officer Caesar Goodson’s trial, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams admonished the state and determined that they violated discovery rules, but he ruled that opening statements could still begin Thursday.

Goodson faces second-degree murder, manslaughter and other charges in the death of Freddie Gray. Prosecutors say Goodson was grossly negligent when he failed to buckle Gray into a seat belt and call for medical aid during Gray’s 45-minute ride in the back of Goodson’s transport van April 12, 2015. Gray died a week after he suffered a critical spinal injury in the back of Goodson’s wagon.

His death prompted protests and civil unrest in the streets of Baltimore, and his name became a national rallying cry for people angry over officers’ mistreatment of African Americans.

Goodson faces 30 years in prison if he’s convicted of the murder charge. If prosecutors fail to secure a guilty verdict, it will be the third straight trial in which they haven’t gotten a favorable decision: The first trial ended in a hung jury and the second finished with an acquittal last month.

Gray was arrested in West Baltimore after making eye contact with a bicycle officer and running away. Once he was handcuffed and placed inside the van, witnesses have testified that Gray began to scream and kick so violently he shook the wagon. Two blocks from the arrest site, the wagon stopped again, and three officers took Gray out of the van to put him in leg shackles. They then placed him on the floor of the van, head-first and on his belly. He was never buckled into a seat belt, as required by department policy.

The van made six stops in total during the trip from the site of his arrest to the Western District station house. Goodson is the only officer present at each of the stops. At one point, Goodson stopped the van to check on Gray without any other officers there.

Officer William Porter, whose trial ended in a hung jury in December, testified during his trial that he told Goodson at one of the stops to take Gray to the hospital, but Goodson didn’t. Instead, Goodson made another stop to pick up a second prisoner.

Just before Goodson’s trial was set to begin, his attorneys filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case because prosecutors didn’t disclose that they had a meeting with the second prisoner who was in the wagon with Gray. Prosecutors said the meeting didn’t produce new information.

Last month, one of the arresting officers, Edward Nero, was acquitted during a bench trial.

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