By Justin Fenton and Kevin Rector
The Baltimore Police van driver accused of giving a "rough ride" that killed Freddie Gray was acquitted of all charges Thursday by Circuit Judge Barry Williams.
Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., 46, had faced the most serious charges of any of the six officers indicted in Gray's arrest and death last April, including a charge of second-degree depraved heart murder. Goodson was also acquitted of three counts of manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
His acquittal, which comes after Williams considered the charges for three days, throws the rest of the cases into jeopardy. The other officers charged face similar, but lesser, accusations.
Prosecutors alleged Goodson had five chances to render aid to Gray after his neck was broken in the back of the van, which they said demonstrated a "depraved heart."
They also said Goodson was the direct cause of the injuries, driving the van in a reckless manner that threw him in the back of the van's steel cage, shackled but unrestrained by a seat belt. As a certified field training officer, prosecutors said Goodson knew Police Department rules and broke them.
Goodson's defense attorneys said officers who checked on Gray didn't know he was seriously injured, and that Goodson deferred to decisions of other officers not to put a seat belt on Gray.
His attorneys also disputed the time frame of Gray's injuries, placing them later in the van's journey and therefore offering less chances to intervene, and blamed Gray himself, saying he had been placed on his stomach in the van and stood up.
Goodson, a 16-year veteran of the force, elected a bench trial, bypassing a jury and leaving his fate in the hands of Judge Williams, a former city prosecutor who also once investigated police misconduct for the Justice Department.
Four other officers still face charges for their roles in Gray's death. The next trial, of Lt. Brian Rice, who is charged with manslaughter, is scheduled to begin July 7. The other officers' trial dates are: Officer Garrett Miller (July 27), Officer William Porter (Sept. 6) and Sgt. Alicia White (Oct. 13). All the officers have pleaded not guilty.
(c)2016 The Baltimore Sun