DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We have just gotten a very, very much anticipated decision from a judge in Baltimore this morning. The police officer accused of the most serious charges in the death of Freddie Gray has been found not guilty. Gray, let's remember was the young black man who suffered a severe spinal injury in the back of a police van in April of 2015 after his arrest, and died a week later. His death touched a violent protest in Baltimore and put a national spotlight on what many in that city say is a history of poor relations between police and the black community. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has been following this case and is just outside the courtroom this morning. Jennifer, good morning.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So remind us who was standing trial here and what the decision was that was just handed down.
LUDDEN: Officer Caesar Goodson, he is a 16-year veteran of the police department here. And because he was the driver of the van, prosecutors have said he was the one who bore ultimate responsibility for the safety of Freddie Gray. Now, in the courtroom this morning, Judge Barry Williams very methodically went over all the counts against Goodson.
And he talked about how much he went over every piece of evidence. He said he watched and making this key right-hand turn prosecutors talked about. He watched it 15 times, trying to look for proof that Goodson ran a stop sign and, you know, may have purposely jostled Gray around in the back. He just said he did not see it. He saw no evidence of a rough ride. He said the state failed to prove that Goodson should have known that Freddie Gray was injured, was in distress. And then even when it came the seat belting him, he said, you know, officers have discretion. And you'd have to, you know, have evil intent when he did not seat belt Gray in the back of that van. He did not see any of that.
GREENE: So then I guess we should say a judge was deciding this because this officer decided he wanted a judge and not a jury...
LUDDEN: A bench trial, correct...
GREENE: Yeah, I mean, what did you get from the judge in terms of whether the prosecution could have done a better job presenting its case or whether there just wasn't evidence here?
LUDDEN: You know, I think this just shows what a lot of people have said from the beginning. This is so not the poster case for the problems that, you know, this nation's been talking about now are the problems between, you know, poor black communities and police departments. What basically came through is that we still don't know, after all this testimony, exactly what happened in the back of the van. Judge Williams said, I have now seen a number of equally plausible scenarios. Even the medical examiner said, you know, there's no camera in there. We don't know exactly at what point Gray was injured. And that's key because the prosecution kept saying during, you know, three, four, five, stops of the van, Goodson should have known he was in distress.
Williams said - the judge said, this is also an internal injury. He broke his neck and nearly severed his spine. So it's not like you had blood or broken bones. And therefore he said the officer - a reasonable officer would not have looked at Gray and known that he needed to call a medic right away.
GREENE: Jennifer Ludden, I know this decision has just been handed down. I mean, any sense at all for what the reaction might be in the city of Baltimore?
LUDDEN: It's a good question. We had a small crowd out here chanting. Well, I've seen signs that say, you know, modern-day lynching. On the other - and the city is prepared, they say they have belief that peace - protests will be peaceful - but they have the National Guard on call. I can tell you this is not going to be a surprise. A number of people in Freddie Gray's neighborhood and across the city have been very skeptical about the justice system from the beginning. So they may be disappointed at not guilty verdict, but many will not be surprised.
GREENE: OK, again just restating the news here - a judge has decided that another officer in the case of the death of Freddie Gray is not guilty. NPR's Jennifer Ludden covering that story from outside the courthouse in Baltimore, Md., this morning. Jennifer, thanks a lot.
LUDDEN: Thank you.
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