Prosecutor: Police van driver gave black man ‘rough ride’

A 25-year-old black man got a “rough ride” in the back of a Baltimore police van, critically injuring his spine and causing his death a week later, a prosecutor said Thursday.

The van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, is on trial facing second-degree murder, manslaughter and other charges stemming from Freddie Gray’s death.

Prosecutors had hinted that Gray received a rough ride when he was arrested April 12, 2015, but Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow’s accusation during opening statements of the van driver’s trial was the first time they had explicitly said so.

Prosecutors say Goodson is the most culpable in Gray’s death and he faces the most serious charges of the six officers who were charged.

Goodson’s attorney Andrew Graham said his client did nothing wrong when he transported Gray without first buckling him into a seat belt, saying that officers “virtually never” belt prisoners.

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.

Before opening statements, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams admonished prosecutors for withholding information from the defense, saying they should’ve disclosed 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.

Williams determined that prosecutors violated discovery rules, but he ruled that the trial could still begin.

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

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