On April 15, 2015, Freddie Gray was arrested by the Baltimore Police Department after running from officers in a high crime area. Gray was arrested for the possession of a switchblade knife, without incident. He was then loaded into a police transport van to be taken to the local station. When he was loaded into the van, the officers failed to secure Gray with a seat belt, which goes against Baltimore Police protocol. During the transportation of Freddie Gray, he was severely injured, causing him to be immediately flown to a hospital from the police station. Gray died a week later due to spinal cord injuries, sustained while in custody. The death of Freddie Gray caused an uprising in the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. Protesters filled the streets, looting local shops and setting fires in the streets of the city, as an expression of their anger and frustration with the death of Freddie Gray. The Baltimore riots gained national attention, causing the implementation of a city wide curfew, all schools to be closed, and the birth of the infamous #BlackLivesMatter movement, which is still thriving today.
While the majority of the protests died down over a year ago, this case is just now coming to a close. Six officers were charged for the death of Freddie Gray and on July 18, we received the ruling for the fourth Freddie Gray trial. To date William Porter, Edward Nero, Caesar Goodson, and Brian Rice have been to court, and there has not been a single conviction. William Porter opted for a jury trial which came to a close on December 16, 2015, when a hung jury resulted in a mistrial. The other three officers all elected for a bench trial, relinquishing their right to a jury. While this is a risky move, because of the outrage in Baltimore from the riots, it’s hard to find a jury that will make an impartial judgement. Opting for a bench trial paid off in the end for Edward Nero, Caesar Goodson, and Brian Rice. All three of these officers have been founded not guilty and acquitted from all charges.
These decisions were significant for several reasons. Caesar Goodson was the driver of the transport van; therefore, he faced the most serious charges. Goodson was considered to be “most” at fault out of all six officers, as he was charged with second degree depraved heart murder, second degree aggravated assault, misconduct in office, involuntary manslaughter, manslaughter by vehicles (gross negligence and criminal negligence), and reckless endangerment. With a list of charges as diverse as this one, Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby was determined to get a conviction; however, the judge found Goodson not guilty on all charges. Because there had not yet been a guilty verdict, even on the officer who was most at fault, the remaining cases were likely to result in a not guilty verdict as well. The judge in these particular trials is Judge Barry G. Williams, a 53 year old African American who served on the Baltimore City Circuit Court for 11 years. Williams is an experienced judge who cannot be accused of ruling based on race in these trials.
On July 27, 2016, Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby dropped all charges against the remaining three officers in the Freddie Gray trail. She held a news conference Wednesday, blaming her failure to secure a conviction on various factors, including a conflict of interests with the police department investigating itself and her lack of influence in the decision to hold bench trials. She did not personally accept blame; however, she did state that the decision to drop the charges was incredibly difficult for her. Mosby’s demeanor and language during the Wednesday news conference has been widely criticized as “angry”, “defiant”, and “heated”. This could very well be the end for her politically as she has burned bridges with the police department and essentially failed in the largest case of her career. The family of Freddie Gray did support the prosecutor’s decision. While this may seem to be a victory for the #BlueLivesMatter movement, it is unclear how Baltimore will react to the decisions made by the court and the prosecutor. Crowds were chanting “we’re with you” at Mosby’s press conference; however, that does not guarantee that this is all in the past. With racial tensions already high from the recent shootings, police officers are struggling to do their job properly, without this case adding to the unrest. The six police officers are all expected to return to work in the Police Department, pending disciplinary actions for their conduct on that day. While there are many internal investigations that are not over, the criminal cases pertaining to the death of Freddie Gray are officially closed. Many agree that this is a chance for Baltimore to move on, hopefully the city will find some closure in the conclusion of this case.