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 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.
Williams said the state offered theories that were not backed by evidence. “The court cannot simply let things speak for themselves,” he said in his ruling.
He called “rough ride” an “inflammatory term” that is “not to be taken lightly,” and said prosecutors didn’t prove it at all.
Gray, 25, died one week after suffering a fatal injury in the back of the police van, touching off citywide protests against police brutality, and rioting, looting and arson on the day of his funeral.
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.
The first trial, of Officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury and mistrial last December. The second, of Officer Edward Nero, ended last month with Nero being acquitted of all charges by Williams in a bench trial.
Nero and officer Garrett Miller, also charged in the case, were present in the courtroom when Goodson’s verdict was announced.
The next trial, of Lt. Brian Rice, who is charged with manslaughter, is scheduled to begin July 7. The other officers’ trial dates are: Miller (July 27), Porter (Sept. 6) and Sgt. Alicia White (Oct. 13).
All the officers have pleaded not guilty.