BALTIMORE — Attorneys for a Baltimore police van driver who transported a black man who later died from injuries suffered on that ride began his defense before a disciplinary board Thursday, calling a witness who testified about police department failures in disseminating policy changes the officer is accused of violating.
An attorney for the department is arguing that Officer Caesar Goodson should be fired for failing to put Freddie Gray in a seatbelt in the back of a police van after his arrest in April 2015 as required. But Goodson’s lawyers say the van driver was unaware of a policy change requiring arrestees to wear seatbelts in vans, adding Goodson never received word of the change made just days before Gray’s arrest.
Lt. Robert Quick, who supervised written directives at the department at the time, testified that the email announcing the change was not sent as a priority. Quick also testified that the department’s best practices unit, which is responsible for publishing and disseminating department policies, didn’t comply with distribution policies.
“They did not,” Quick said, when asked by Goodson’s attorney if he would agree the unit complied with policies for distributing printed copies of new policies.
Sean Malone, Goodson’s lawyer, also noted that no record could be found that Goodson ever received the email about the policy change in a response to a Maryland Public Information Act request filed by Goodson’s defense.
Gray was handcuffed and shackled in the back of the van without a seatbelt during the nearly 45-minuted van ride to a police station after his arrest.
Goodson’s lawyers say Gray wasn’t fastened with a seatbelt because police were trying to get away from a crowd that had gathered and because Gray was not cooperative, creating a dangerous situation in one of Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods.
The previous seatbelt policy allowed for police discretion, if officers were concerned about safety. However, Neil Duke, an attorney for the department, has noted testimony that there were no crowds at some stops the van made en route to a police station, creating opportunities for Gray to be fastened without danger.
Six officers were charged in Gray’s death. Goodson had faced the most serious charge — murder. Goodson, Officer Edward Nero and Lt. Brian Rice were acquitted at trial last year. After the acquittals, prosecutors dropped the charges against the remaining three officers, Miller, Sgt. Alicia White and Officer William Porter, whose first trial ended in a hung jury.