Officer Caesar Goodson’s defense challenges investigation that led to administrative charges

The Montgomery County internal affairs officer who interrogated Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. about his role two years ago in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, had the tables turned on him during the second day of Goodson’s administrative trial Tuesday, when Goodson’s attorneys subjected him to a withering cross examination about his findings in the case.

Under questioning by Sean Malone, Det. Sgt. Thomas Curtis acknowledged that he hadn’t followed up with key witnesses about alleged false statements by Goodson despite the fact that the allegation, if sustained at the trial, would be the “death penalty” of Goodson’s career — leading to his termination.

Malone also got Curtis to acknowledge that, when compiling his investigative file for the outside committee that determined what policy violations Goodson would be charged with, he had failed to include evidence beneficial to Goodson as required under Maryland law, leaving the charging panel with an incomplete understanding of the what happened.

Noting Goodson was acquitted of all criminal charges at his separate criminal trial in the case in June 2016 but not interviewed by Curtis until February 2017, Malone lamented the fading of memory that can occur over time, and suggested Curtis’ failure to interview Goodson more quickly likely contributed to a lack of clarity around some of Goodson’s statements — including those that are now the subject of his false statement charges.

“You tainted the evidence in your own case, didn’t you?” Malone asked, before prosecutor Neil Duke, acting on behalf of the city and its police department, objected to the line of questioning. The three-person law enforcement panel presiding over the trial then moved things along.

It was unclear Tuesday what the shortcomings acknowledged by Curtis will mean for Goodson, who faces more than 20 charges of violating police policy and could be terminated by Police Commissioner Kevin Davis if any one of them are sustained by the trial board.

It could remain unclear indefinitely.

A change in state law last year allowed the public into the room for trial boards, but did not change the law to allow the public reporting of the trials’ results, which are still secret.

Even the charges against Goodson remain obscure, though trial testimony has made clear that Goodson is charged with making a false statement to investigators and neglecting his duty by failing to protect Gray’s safety by securing him in a seat belt.

Gray suffered severe spinal cord injuries in the back of a police van where he was placed in handcuffs and leg shackles but not in a seat belt following his arrest in April 2015, according to prosecutors. He died a week later. His arrest and death were followed by widespread protests against police brutality and his funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson, millions of dollars in property damage in the city and a weeklong nightly curfew.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby filed criminal charges against six officers in the case, then failed to secure a single conviction. Goodson and two others were acquitted at bench trials, and Mosby dropped all charges against the remaining three.

At the behest of the Baltimore Police Department, Curtis and other investigators in Montgomery and Howard counties also conducted a separate investigation into whether the officers violated internal police policies. They provided findings to a charging panel, which determined that five of the officers done so.

Two — Officers Edward Nero and Garrett Miller — accepted minor punishments in relation to those findings and are back to work in the department. Officer William Porter, who had a mistrial before his criminal charges were dropped and was the only officer of the six charged criminally who was not charged administratively, is also back to work with the department.

Goodson and two other officers, Lt. Brian Rice and Sgt. Alicia White, who are all facing termination, are fighting the charges. Rice’s administrative trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 13, while White’s is scheduled to begin Dec. 5.

Goodson’s trial began Monday with opening remarks from both sides, after which Duke called Curtis to the stand and had him walk through his interrogation of Goodson, a video of which was aired for the first time publicly.

On Tuesday morning, Malone resumed the proceedings with his cross examination of Curtis.

After, some familiar faces — namely Porter and Nero — took the witness stand and provided similar testimony to what they have previously given in other interviews with law enforcement and during testimony in their own criminal trials and those of Goodson and Rice.

They testified that Gray was combative, that he wasn’t secured with a seat belt in part because of fears for officer safety, and that they didn’t believe he was injured when he had asked for a medic.

They testified that on the day of Gray’s arrest, they were not aware of a new policy for transporting detainees, issued days before, that removed an officer’s discretion in deciding whether or not a detainee had to be secured in a seat belt, instead mandating it.

Goodson’s attorneys have maintained he wasn’t aware of the policy either.

Porter is now a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA, task force detective, he said. Nero is now a member of the police department’s aviation unit.

Officer Mark Gladhill, another Western District officer on duty the day of Gray’s arrest, also testified. He is now with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

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