THE family of Freddie Gray is frustrated and disappointed with the acquittal Thursday of Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. on all charges related to Gray’s death, family attorney William H. ‘Billy’ Murphy said.
He said they feel that many people in the city share their frustration with the ruling, in part because they haven’t been able to watch the proceedings, and they want that to change in the future. Gray’s death set off Baltimore’s worst protests and riots in decades and stoked a debate on US police brutality against black workers and youth.
Goodson, the driver of the police van in which 25-year-old Freddie Gray suffered fatal spinal cord injuries last year, was cleared last Thursday by Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams of second-degree murder, three counts of manslaughter and other charges after an eight-day trial.
He is the second officer to be acquitted of the six officers charged in the case by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby. ‘Today is a reminder that there is a set of laws, policies and police union contracts across the country that will protect any form of police behaviour,’ Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson said.
Baltimore’s NAACP president, Tessa Hill-Aston, said: ‘Rules and the court play it one way, but in the street we see it as criminal and we see that our loved ones are dead.’
The People’s Power Assembly, which has organised demonstrations outside each trial, announced a new campaign on Thursday to hold quarterly citizen assemblies where people can discuss their experiences with police, and called for more resources for inner-city communities.
Tawanda Jones, who leads a weekly protest over the death of her own brother during his arrest, tearfully said: ‘We need to dismantle this corrupt system.’ Angel Selah, wearing a symbolic noose around her neck, demanded that someone be held accountable for Gray’s death. ‘I feel like it is a modern day lynching,’ she said.
Attorney Murphy said during a news conference in his downtown offices on Thursday afternoon: ‘Even though the family gives its 100 per cent support to one of the most courageous prosecutors in the United States, Marilyn Mosby, who has led the fight against police brutality and police corruption. They are nonetheless disappointed that the goal of the prosecution has not been achieved. They also understand everybody else’s anger and frustration that no police officer has yet been brought to justice in this case.’
Gray’s mother, Gloria Darden, and step-father, Richard Shipley, stood by Murphy’s side but did not speak. Darden occasionally dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. All the officers have pleaded not guilty; the remaining four are scheduled to stand trial consecutively over the course of the next four months.
Murphy said the family believes that Mosby is ‘fighting for a just cause’. He called for broader reform to the state’s court system – namely to the law in Maryland that bars cameras from being in courtrooms. Murphy said that law is contributing to the frustration felt throughout the city about the way the trials have gone so far.
Murphy said: ‘We have all the technology in the world to permit (cameras), but this court system of ours, starting with our highest court, has said “no” to putting cameras in the court room.
‘This is a serious mistake in cases of such high levels of public concern, because instead of relying on talking heads who have their own flavour about what they saw and heard in that courtroom, the public has the right to see for itself why this was a not guilty verdict and whether that was the appropriate verdict in this case.’
Murphy said changing the law for the first time in Maryland’s history is a top priority of Gray’s family. The attorney said: ‘Instead of rumour and speculation and innuendo about what happened, who should have done what, whether the prosecution was weak or strong, whether the defence was stronger than the prosecution, whether the participants in the trial did their job, the public has a right to see that for itself. It can no longer be tolerated that the public cannot just tune in to their televisions and watch as much of this as they want.’
Murphy said Gray’s family is ‘enormously relieved that the city understood the difference between civil and criminal liability’ and has already agreed to a $6.4 million civil settlement with the family out of court. Civil cases have a lower burden of proof. Of the pending trials of the other officers, Murphy said Gray’s family has ‘the same view’ as they have had about all the trials.
He urged: ‘People should be calm, they should not react with unreasonable anger.’ He said there also ‘should be no disturbances in the wake of this trial.’ Murphy said Gray’s is ‘a very patient family’ and will continue to await justice. He concluded: ‘They have a bigger stake in this personally than anybody else in the United States and it’s exemplary that they are, under the circumstances, calm, cool and collected, even though their emotions are involved.’
l New York Police Department officer Joel Edouard, 38, has avoided a prison sentence for stamping on a head of a handcuffed man despite cries for help. Aside from two years’ probation, the cop is required to resign within 24 hours. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said at the sentencing last Thursday: ‘This police officer intentionally and needlessly stomped on the head of a suspect who had already been restrained by fellow officers. And he did so in broad daylight and in front of a crowd of people.’
In April, Edouard was found guilty after an amateur video showed him and other police officers arresting Jahmiel Cuffee in the summer of 2014. It was Edouard who, during the attempted arrest, pointed a gun at Cuffee and then kicked him in the head, despite bystanders yelling that he was being recorded.
Cuffee suffered scrapes and bumps, a contusion, dizziness, headaches and nausea. At first Cuffee was charged with attempting to tamper with evidence, obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. As charges were dropped for Cuffee, Edouard found himself under investigation.
DA Thompson said: ‘He deserved to spend time in jail for committing such a blatant act of police brutality, but we accept the sentence imposed by the court.’ The DA initially recommended sentencing Edouard to 60 days in Rikers Island prison and an additional two years’ probation.
However, Judge Alan Marrus imposed only a part of the recommendation, explaining that he saw no ‘need to incarcerate’ Edouard because ‘the victim recovered and was compensated through civil judgement’. Marrus agreed with two years’ probation and also ordered Edouard, who has been on modified assignment, to resign by his own choice.
Judge Marrus said: ‘If the (Police) Commissioner doesn’t terminate the defendant in 24 hours, the defendant must turn in a letter of resignation’, calling the case ‘a setback for police community relations’.
• A Pennsylvania man has filed a lawsuit claiming Pittsburgh police officers ordered a police dog to repeatedly bite him during an arrest. Steven Toprani, the lawyer for Antwaun Bush, 34, said: ‘The City of Pittsburgh police used the dog as a way of torturing him into producing a gun he never had.’
The lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday, lists the city, former Police Chief Nathan Harper and six police officers as defendants. Bush claimed in the lawsuit that he was standing with some friends in a parking lot on February 15, 2012, waiting to play pool, when police responded to a report of an armed man involved in a domestic disturbance.
Police used a Taser on Bush to shock him when they thought his cell phone was a weapon, and then released the dog on him as he lay on the ground. The hound bit him repeatedly on the leg, he said.
Police subsequently charged Bush with aggravated assault, illegal possession of a firearm, resisting arrest and several other charges. At a court hearing in 2013, prosecutors withdrew all the felony and misdemeanor charges and Bush pleaded no contest to the remaining charges. By then, Bush had spent over 15 months in the Allegheny County Jail.
Bush was hospitalised for several weeks and underwent multiple operations to repair his knee, according to the complaint.