Officer William G. Porter, on the force since 2012, responded when Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., who was driving the police van, asked for additional units to check on Freddie Gray. According to authorities, Gray told Porter he could not breathe. Porter allegedly asked Gray if he needed a medic. Gray said “yes” twice. The officer helped lift Gray to a bench but did not assess his condition or call for medical assistance, officials say. Porter, 25, was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree negligent assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., 45, drove the transport van carrying Freddie Gray. “Despite stopping for the purpose of checking on Mr. Gray’s condition, at no point did he seek nor did he render any medical assistance for Mr. Gray,” said Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby on May 1, 2015. Goodson, with the Baltimore Police Department since 1999, was indicted on charges of second-degree depraved-heart murder, involuntary manslaughter, second-degree negligent assault, manslaughter by vehicle (gross negligence), manslaughter by vehicle (criminal negligence), misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.
In Baltimore, the justice system has an ugly history of failing to take on police misconduct, but several recent incidents in particular have touched off an uproar in the community.
To start, in early 2011, the state declined to charge a group of police officers who shot and killed a fellow officer who was not in uniform while wounding several bystanders outside the Select Nightclub.
Officer William Torbit responded to help a security situation at the nightclub and got into an altercation with a supposedly unruly patron in the parking lot. Torbit drew his gun and shot the patron (who later died) at which point other officers arrived and fired into a large crowd, not recognizing Torbit was among them. Responding officers shot Torbit dead and wounded three other innocent civilians. The state felt the actions of the police in firing 42 rounds into a crowd amounted to mere “mistakes” and declined to charge the case.
Then there’s the death of Anthony Anderson in 2011 and Tyrone West in 2012, both occurring in police custody.
The state medical examiner ruled Anderson’s death a homicide and said West’s cause of death could not be determined. Anderson lost his life after Baltimore narcotics’ officers attempted to arrest him on the street for making a suspected drug sale. The medical examiner’s official cause of death was blunt force trauma, injuries stemming from a ruptured spleen and multiple fractured ribs.
Witnesses described officers slamming Anderson to the ground for no reason. Conflicting allegations of Anderson choking drugs turned out to be false. After an investigation, no charges were filed. Anderson’s alleged nonviolent crime should never have led to fatal injuries, plain and simple.
More recently, West’s tragic demise took place during a traffic stop gone wrong. Plainclothes officers pulled over West because they suspected he had a weapon in his vehicle. After being removed from the car, West and eight officers “struggled.” The official cause of death listed in the examiner’s report was a pre-existing heart condition exacerbated by “police restraint.”
Again, witnesses described police actions as severe, in beating West with batons along with punching and kicking him — all after he surrendered. No weapon was recovered, but the police did find a small amount of cocaine in his sock. It is hard to fathom how a traffic stop can snowball into the death of an unarmed man, but once more, no charges were filed.
The Torbit, Anderson and West incidents have fueled anger and mistrust toward the justice system in Baltimore.
To this day, West’s sister, Tawanda Jones, faithfully leads a rally every Wednesday evening in Baltimore in the name of her brother’s passing and all other police-involved deaths where justice was not served. Hearing her voice underscores the hypocrisy in trying the Freddie Gray case in the face of the aforementioned incidents.
Accountability for deaths that occur in police custody is long overdue. But, it is curious that, given Baltimore’s history of police-involved deaths, the “test case” is this one, which arises from an incident of alleged acts of criminal negligence.
However, the fact is that Gray officers have been charged. So, it only makes sense that either the same is done in the Torbit, Anderson and West cases and others, or someone should adequately explain to us why those deaths are not deserving of prosecution.
Bringing every police misconduct case to justice can only serve to improve law enforcement’s effectiveness in the community and build the public’s trust in what they do. We cannot take a piecemeal approach.