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“A Shadow Justice System For Police Officers”: Freddie Gray’s Killer Cops Are Walking Away Unscathed

Officer Caesar Goodson, Jr. is a free man.

A year after 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s life came to an end after he fell into a coma while in the back of a Baltimore police van and the city erupted, Goodson, 46,  strode down the courthouse steps and into the next chapter of his life. That the 16-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department broke its policies in handling Gray is not in dispute. That Gray got into that van alive, only to be removed later with a devastating spinal injury, is a matter of fact.

Goodson was behind the wheel of the transport van and was accused of giving Gray what proved to be a fatal “rough ride.” Among the six police officers indicted by a grand jury, Goodson faced the heaviest charges, including second-degree depraved heart murder. Thursday, he became the second officer tried and acquitted of all charges in a bench trial before Circuit Judge Barry Williams.

If State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is trying to represent a new generation in criminal justice reform or even a new chapter for Baltimore law enforcement by bringing charges against the officers in the first place, the new book is reading a lot like the old one—with experts erring little chance of a conviction in the remaining trials given the verdicts so far.

Baltimore officials, including Mosby, had to know what few will admit out loud: Getting a conviction would be next to impossible, especially in a system so reticent to see young men like Gray as victims.

“I think that this is a reminder that there is a shadow justice system for police officers,” said social justice activist and former Baltimore mayoral candidate DeRay Mckesson. “This is a reminder that the work to make police officers accountable at the structure level must continue.”

In fact, there was never much chance that Goodson would ever have seen a day in prison, that a jury of twelve or a judge  would ever send him to the state penitentiary—not in a place like Baltimore nor almost any other place in America.

In all likelihood, those six police officers—five men and one woman—will walk away scot free. A third trial ended in a mistrial late last year.  Prosecutors say they expect to re-try Officer William Porter. But there is little hope that Porter or the three remaining cops (they’ve all opted for bench, rather than jury, trials) will be convicted of anything. In fact, with the Goodson verdict, those cases are in jeopardy and they may never come to trial.

The officers involved may well have done every single thing the public suspects: Intentionally placing an unsecured suspect in a metal-lined police van and then purposely finding every pothole and sharp turn along the way in an effort to send the shackled black man careening across the steel encasement. Then, according to prosecutors, they denied him immediate medical attention. Gray subsisted in a coma for a week until he died from his injuries.

Goodson reportedly had five separate chances to help Gray after his neck was broken and did nothing. His defense attorneys blamed the judgement of the other officers and even Gray himself, when it was Goodson who had the keys to the van.

Unfortunately, at least on some level, as a society we agree with the defense and think Gray deserved it. When they are black and poor, we are culturally prone to exact a moral examination of the victim.

Injustice is injustice no matter who it touches or who they were in the moments before. But we don’t believe that. He had to have done something wrong, right?

When all is said and done, a negotiated civil settlement—worth nearly $7 million—may be the only justice Freddie Gray’s family ever sees. The plain fact of the matter is that jurisdictions across the country—small and large—collectively pay millions to resolve police brutality cases. All the while, few officers are ever charged, tried, let alone convicted on criminal charges—even when the suspect dies, even when that suspect is unarmed.

Even when that suspect is helplessly shackled in the back of a recklessly driven police van.

The proliferation of video cameras has certainly meant more public inspection and, sure, a few more indictments. Prosecutors, who normally sail to re-election now face an additional layer of accountability. However, as the Eric Garner case demonstrates, video evidence can mean next to nothing in a grand jury room. Unfortunately, the same implicit bias that sometimes fuels the actions of officers also functions to protect them in the criminal justice system.

“The police understand how well they are protected from criminal liability,” Mckesson told The Daily Beast. “Clearly, Freddie Gray got into that van alive and left it with his spine severed and there are six people who contributed to that.”

For their part, Baltimore officials did not admit the officers were at fault. They didn’t have to. The money tells the story. However, if one listens closely, the criminal justice system is saying something else: This is all the justice we have.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, June 24, 2016

June 25, 2016 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Criminal Justice System, Freddie Gray | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Brains Of Many White Racists”: No, There’s No Comparison Between The Freddie Gray And Duke Lacrosse Cases

Shortly after the indictments dropped against the police officers allegedly responsible for killing Freddie Gray, a number of conservative blowhards from Sean Hannity to Alan Dershowitz have shared their outrage of the supposed injustice of it all. But the most hilarious case involves Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke who compared it to the Duke Lacrosse case.

Obviously, most of this backlash is purely racially motivated by racist agitators. The prospect of black female state’s attorney indicting six police officers for murdering a black male without threat or probable cause causes short circuits of outrage in the brains of many white racists. They view poor blacks as dangerous inferiors to be kept in line by authorities by any means necessary, including but not limited to murder.

But the comparison to the Duke Lacrosse case is particularly stupid. There was plenty of reason to be skeptical in that incident. I myself took my lumps within the progressive blogosphere for urging caution on it from the start, and I ended up being right. From the beginning there was no physical evidence of rape, and the accuser’s story was filled with inconsistencies. That admittedly happens frequently in cases where rape has actually occurred, of course, so it’s not surprising or objectionable that charges were brought in the case. But justice eventually followed its due course in the case as the evidence presented itself, with the greatest damage being that inflicted by the media on the defendants, as well as the damage inflicted on real victims of rape by the public example of a false accuser–since only a small fraction of rape accusations turn out to be false.

The Freddie Gray case, on the other hand, is pretty open and shut as far as the evidence is concerned. The knife carried by Mr. Gray was legal in Maryland, so the police had no reason or probable cause to stop him. They failed, against regulations, to put a seat belt on Mr. Gray. They have a longstanding tradition of punishing suspects by roughriding them in unsecured vans, and have been sued for millions of dollars for doing just that. The evidence strongly suggests that Mr. Gray (if he was not beaten beforehand) was likely shackled hands and feet, tossed into the back of the vehicle and roughrided until a particularly forceful impact severed his spine.

That is murder, and the evidence is very clear on the matter. The only question will hinge on whether the police can be reasonably expected to have thought that the roughriding would do severe physical damage to Mr. Gray–and not even that point is seriously in question. A bevy of lawsuits for physical injury against the Baltimore PD demonstrates that they knew very well the kind of harm that Mr. Gray’s treatment could do to him.

To compare that incident to the Duke Lacrosse case is to exercise a kneejerk racist prejudice against any white person accused of doing harm to a less powerful black person. Justice was done in the Duke case by finding the defendants innocent, and it will very likely be done in Baltimore by finding the defendants guilty.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 2, 2015

May 5, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Duke Lacrosse Case, Freddie Gray | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Official’s Under Pressure To Confront The Issues”: Did Violence In Baltimore Lead To Cops Being Prosecuted For Freddie Gray’s Death?

This is just extraordinary news out of Baltimore:

The six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray – who died last month after being injured in police custody – have been charged criminally, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Friday.

Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., 45, who was the driver of a police van that carried Gray through the streets of Baltimore, was charged with second-degree murder, assault, manslaughter, misconduct and other charges.

Officer William Porter, 25, and Lt. Brian Rice, 41, were charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Sgt. Alicia White, 30, was charged with manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Officer Edward Nero, 29, and Officer Garrett Miller, 26, were charged with assault and misconduct.

We’re going to learn more in the coming days about what the prosecutors say happened, what the officers say happened, and what evidence there is for each story. But police officers getting charged with murder and manslaughter is an extremely rare occurrence, and it forces us to ask a difficult question:

Would this have happened if the protests in Baltimore hadn’t turned violent? Is that what it takes to get accountability when someone dies at the hands of police?

Before I go any farther, let me make it clear that I’m not arguing in favor of rioting. The destruction that occurred Monday night in Baltimore had real victims, including not only the store owners whose businesses were damaged but also the residents of the affected neighborhoods. But it’s hard to argue that it didn’t have an impact.

We have no way of knowing whether Mosby would have pursued these charges had no one outside of Freddie Gray’s friends and family ever heard of him. But it would be foolish to deny that she was under enormous pressure to make a case against the officers involved.

You may have seen the video from Tuesday of a woman named Danielle Williams, who said to MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts:

“When we were out here protesting all last week for six days straight peacefully, there were no news cameras, there were no helicopters, there was no riot gear, and nobody heard us. So now that we’ve burned down buildings and set businesses on fire and looted buildings, now all of the sudden everybody wants to hear us.”

She was absolutely right. The violence led to a huge increase in media attention, and even if much of that coverage was sensationalistic, there was also a lot of attention paid to the substantive issues involved. Those included the Baltimore police’s record in dealing with the public generally, and in particular the use of “rough rides” as a method of abusing suspects, which is a likely explanation for how Freddie Gray came to have his spine broken in the back of a police ban.

All that national attention put every public official under pressure to not only bring calm but also to confront the issues that have the people of Baltimore so angry: The police commissioner, the mayor, the governor, and yes, the state’s attorney. While every official would like to believe that he or she would make all the same decisions regardless of whether there are people chanting in the streets and news cameras parked outside their office, they can’t possibly be immune.

There are some interesting details that emerged from Mosby’s press conference, including her statement that Gray’s arrest was unlawful in the first place; while it had been reported that Gray was arrested for possessing a switchblade, Mosby said that the knife Gray had in his pocket was not a switchblade and was perfectly legal. We’ll no doubt be learning more. But what matters is that in this case, unlike so many others (Gray wasn’t the first suspect in Baltimore who went into a police van and came out with a fatal spinal injury), there’s going to be a prosecution.

Perhaps this prosecution — and whatever reforms might happen in the near future — would have occurred if the protests had stayed peaceful. There’s no way to know for sure. But you don’t have to approve of rioting to acknowledge that in this case it may well have led to results.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 1, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Baltimore Riots, National Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Riots And Results”: The Next Time A Suspect Dies, People In The Community May Now Be More Likely To Take To The Streets

Yesterday, I wrote about how the explanation Baltimore police gave for the death of Freddie Gray was almost impossible to believe, and apparently, state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby felt the same way after her investigation, because she announced today that she is charging six officers with crimes ranging from negligence to second-degree murder (you can watch her statement here). In a post at the Plum Line this morning, I raised the question of whether you could argue that the violence that occurred in Baltimore on Monday led to this prosecution and therefore produced some of the accountability people in Baltimore want so desperately. Here’s a piece of that post:

The violence led to a huge increase in media attention, and even if much of that coverage was sensationalistic, there was also a lot of attention paid to the substantive issues involved. Those included the Baltimore police’s record in dealing with the public generally, and in particular the use of “rough rides” as a method of abusing suspects, which is a likely explanation for how Freddie Gray came to have his spine broken in the back of a police van.

All that national attention put every public official under pressure to not only bring calm but also to confront the issues that have the people of Baltimore so angry: The police commissioner, the mayor, the governor, and yes, the state’s attorney. While every official would like to believe that he or she would make all the same decisions regardless of whether there are people chanting in the streets and news cameras parked outside their office, they can’t possibly be immune.

I have to confess I’m not completely sure what the answer to the basic question is. I’m not at all comfortable endorsing violence as a political tactic, particularly since it not only claims innocent victims, it also tends to be less effective than nonviolent protest over the long run. But there’s no question that Monday’s rioting instantly made Baltimore and Freddie Gray a national issue.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that if the nonviolent protests had simply continued and grown, there would still have been a prosecution. Though I know very little about Mosby, she doesn’t seem like she’s being forced into this against her will. One important question is how the rest of the Baltimore officials who are also under a microscope respond. What kind of police reforms are they going to initiate, and how effective will they be? We probably won’t know the answers until long after the national media’s attention has shifted elsewhere.

There’s also the question of whether the events in Baltimore, including this prosecution, have any impact on what happens in police departments around the country, with regard to both police abuse and accountability for it. Suspects die in police custody all the time, after all, and prosecutions are pretty rare. Changing both of those things will take a long time, but the next time a suspect dies, the people in the community where it happened may now be more likely to take the streets, and the prosecutors are going to be asked why they aren’t issuing an indictment like the prosecutor in Baltimore did.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 1, 2015

May 2, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Baltimore Police Dept, Police Brutality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Hard For Me To Understand”: Experts; You Can’t Break Your Own Spine Like Freddie Gray

On Wednesday night, The Washington Post leaked an alleged report from the Baltimore Police Department, which claims that Freddie Gray, the 21-year-old who died a week after his spine was fractured while in police custody, “was intentionally trying to injure himself” in the back of a Baltimore Police van.

The report, whose author is unknown, cites a single source: an unnamed second man who was in the van with Gray for a short time, but could not see him.

But if Freddie Gray was trying to break his own spinal cord in the back of a van, according to experts in spinal trauma injuries, it might be the first self-inflicted injury of its kind.

“I have never seen it before. I’ve never seen somebody self-inflict a spinal cord injury in that way,” says Anand Veeravagu, a Stanford University Medical Center neurosurgeon who specializes in traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

“It’s hard for me to understand that, unless those terms (like ‘intentional’ and ‘injure himself’) are being used incorrectly. It’s hard for me to envision how a person could try to do that,” he says. “It would require them to basically hang themselves in a car where there isn’t anything to hang yourself with.”

Veeravagu says that there are only a few ways you can injure your spine in a similar way to the injuries that ultimately led to Gray’s death. One, he says, is by a sharp injury, which is a direct penetrating injury—either somebody with a knife “who knows what they’re doing, or something else that cuts through, like a gunshot wound.”

The other way, more pertinent to Gray’s case, is by trauma, where the bones are fractured and the ligaments are torn as a result of force or impact.

“It is very difficult to sever your spinal cord without a known fracture,” says Veeravagu. “Often, when patients come in with this kind of injury, you’ll find they’ve been either in a car accident or something similar to that kind of impact.”

There are times where Veeravagu, who is a former White House Fellow, has seen suicide or self-harm by means of a spinal cord injury, but it’s always by hanging, or by using an apparatus Gray couldn’t have on-hand.

“Unfortunately, sometimes people attempt suicide by hanging themselves. It’s one of the only ways I’ve seen where you can (commit suicide or intentional self-harm) by spinal fracture. They kick their chair out, they fall, they snap their neck. It results in immediate spinal cord injury,” he says. “But it’s very hard to see how somebody could attempt suicide by a spinal cord injury without the use of something else.”

But it’s even in those instances, he says, patients often don’t die of a spinal cord injury. And most who are taken to the hospital in time after suffering spinal cord injuries—self-inflicted or not—survive the trauma.

“Most spinal cord injuries are not fatal if patients are taken to the hospital,” Veeravagu says. “Most survive.”

Outlets covering The Washington Post’s leak have called the claims from the unnamed source “a twist” and a “new narrative (that) questions police brutality claim.” On Wednesday night, CNN’s broadcast ran a breaking news banner that read: “BREAKING NEWS: WASH. POST: GRAY TRIED TO HURT HIMSELF,” and the video remains on CNN’s Youtube page.

The Washington Post’s initial report does not reach out to any medical professionals to determine the feasibility of the leaked document’s claims.

The official police report of Gray’s arrest was scheduled to be released publically on Friday, but police delayed the release on Wednesday.

“I’m surprised they released that piece of information without a more detailed account,” says Veeravagu.

Another trauma surgeon, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political nature of the case and because he is “surprised time and again by what I previously believed to be impossible,” thinks that it’s “highly unusual (if not impossible) to deliberately make yourself a quadriplegic while shackled in the back of a police van.”

There are, Veeravagu says, situations that would make Gray more prone to a fatal spinal injury, however—like if someone or something applied pressure to his spine as it snapped.

“Certain conditions make people more prone to spinal injury. If you were to apply leverage to the spine at certain points, it basically converts the spine to a long bone,” says Veeravagu.

Veeravagu also says it’s possible Gray’s spinal fracture could have occurred before entering the van—and that symptoms of his broken vertebrae could have been delayed until he was placed in the van.

“That is possible: It’s possible to have an injury to your spinal cord that gets worse over time and eventually progresses to complete paralysis,” he says. “Did he have an expanding blood clot in his spine? Did he have an exact fracture to his spine? Both are important to understand. If the family does an autopsy—finding that out, that’s ideal.”

 

By: Ben Collins, The Daily Beast, April 30, 2015

May 1, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Freddie Gray, Police Brutality | , , , , | Leave a comment

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