Testimony: Freddie Gray’s Neck Felt ‘Crumbly, Like a Box of Rocks,’ After Van Ride

Arthur B. Johnson demonstrates outside Circuit Court on the first day in the trial of Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. on June 9, 2016, in Baltimore.
Mark Makela/Getty Images

"What the f—k did you guys do?"

That’s what paramedic Angelique Herbert yelled at Officers William Porter, Caesar Goodson Jr. and Zach Novak when she saw what condition Freddie Gray was in after he rode in their police van over a year ago.


Herbert was among 21 witnesses who testified in the trial of Goodson over Gray’s death in April 2015. After the prosecution rested its case Wednesday, the defense made a motion to acquit Goodson based on insufficient evidence, but the motion was denied Thursday by Judge Barry Williams.

During testimony, Herbert, who responded to the Western District police station to treat Gray, revealed gruesome details of Gray’s condition.


His eyes were open but not blinking, there was blood underneath his nose, he wasn't breathing or responding to verbal cues, the smell of feces indicated incontinence, and his neck felt "crumbly, like a box of rocks," according to Herbert.

Herbert testified that when she asked what had happened, Novak said that he wasn't sure but that Gray could have been banging his head, and Porter and Goodson just shrugged.


Goodson, the driver of the van that transported Gray, is facing the most serious charges of the six officers that have either been tried or have upcoming trials in the death of Gray. Goodson’s charges include second-degree depraved-heart murder (a murder committed with indifference to human life), involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, manslaughter by vehicle, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. The murder charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.

Another state's witness, Neill Franklin, who previously worked for the Baltimore Police Department and oversaw training, was brought to testify on "rough rides." He could not say for sure that Goodson engaged in a rough ride, despite video footage in which Goodson runs a stop sign and makes a turn where he crosses the dividing line. There's limited video footage of the van ride, in part because CCTV footage was erased—much of it on a 24-hour cycle.


The state's witness, Detective Michael Boyd, also could not state with any certainty after seeing the brief video footage that Goodson had engaged in a rough ride. In order to prove depraved-heart murder, it's necessary to prove malicious intent. The state has to prove a wanton and reckless disregard for human life. Giving a rough ride would help prove that case, but so far the evidence is very thin.

Detective Dawnyell Taylor, the lead police investigator in the case, took the stand for the defense.


Taylor testified that on two occasions the medical examiner, Dr. Carol Allan, referred to Gray's death as an "accident.” Taylor said that on the second occasion, she referred to it as a "freakish accident, and no human hands had caused this injury."

Allan testified last Friday, “The word ‘accident’ never crossed my lips to anyone, other than to say, ‘This is not an accident.’” Allan ultimately determined that the cause of death was a homicide, based on medical reports, the autopsy, and witness and police statements, among other factors.


The strained relationship between police and the state's attorney's office since the death of Gray played itself out in the courtroom. After prosecutor Michael Schatzow told Taylor that he thought she had attempted to "sabotage" the case and that prosecutor Janice Bledsoe had questioned her "integrity," Taylor responded that she questioned Bledsoe's integrity. Taylor claimed that Bledsoe refused to take evidence and stormed out as if she were having a "temper tantrum."

Arrests dropped by nearly 15,000 from 2014 to 2015, the year Gray died, and after the six officers were indicted for his death, murders in the city skyrocketed. Many people in the city suggested that the police were willfully neglecting their duties, presumably out of fear of being prosecuted for making unreasonable arrests.


According to reports in the Baltimore Sun, the rift between Baltimore police and prosecutors began when Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby declared that she would launch an "independent" investigation into how Gray died.

The act was considered unprecedented by Baltimore police commanders, according to the Sun. Historically, police have investigated use-of-force and brutality allegations of their own officers—a flawed and biased process—before forwarding the results to prosecutors.


"It becomes more obvious to me that the state is having a difficult time proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt," said Warren Alperstein, a Baltimore defense attorney who has followed the case closely. "It's never a good thing for a prosecutor to have to accuse one of the lead investigators in the case of sabotage. It's so unusual."

University of Baltimore law professor David Jaros said that the exchange between Bledsoe and Taylor ultimately intimated at a flawed process.


"It boiled down to a question of whether the medical examiner thought that this was an accident and subsequently revised her opinion. It doesn't turn out to be the turning point in the case," said Jaros. "The problem is, allegations that police were sabotaging the investigation, or the prosecutor’s office was committing misconduct by hiding exculpatory information, clouds the case and challenges the integrity of the process. So the people who end up losing [are] the public."

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