BALTIMORE (AP) – A Baltimore police officer involved in arresting a black man who later suffered a fatal injury during a police van ride testified at the driver’s disciplinary hearing Tuesday that the man did not show any signs he needed medical care when he was first put into the van.
Officer Edward Nero testified at the hearing for Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver who could be fired for violating department policies in the case.
“He was not showing any signs of a medical emergency,” Nero, a certified emergency medical technician, said of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died about a week after his April 2015 arrest from a fatal spinal cord injury.
The testimony comes as Neil Duke, an attorney for the police department, is arguing before a three-member disciplinary panel that Goodson should be fired, partly for failing in his duty to take Gray to a hospital after he requested medical care.
But Nero testified that people who are arrested often request medical attention to avoid jail.
“It’s very common to have that,” Nero testified.
Duke is also contending that Goodson, who was acquitted of murder and other charges last year in the criminal case, should be fired for failing to secure the handcuffed and shackled Gray with a safety belt inside the van.
Goodson’s lawyers disagree. They say the police department failed to properly disseminate new rules requiring seat belts during prisoner transport. Nero and Officer William Porter both testified Tuesday that they had not been informed of the policy change, which was just days old at the time of the arrest.
Porter testified that he also didn’t think Gray had a medical issue, but he thought Gray should be taken to a hospital since Gray’s request for care meant that he wouldn’t be admitted to the Baltimore Central Intake and Booking Center without getting cleared by a hospital first. However, Porter said he never talked to Goodson about that.
Goodson’s lawyers also say Gray wasn’t fastened into a seatbelt because police were trying to get away from a crowd that had gathered and because Gray was not cooperative, creating a dangerous situation in one of Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods. But under questioning by Duke, officers have testified that there were no crowds at some of the later stops in the 45-minute drive to a police station, creating opportunities for Gray to be fastened without danger.
The hearing is expected to last into next week.
Six officers were charged in Gray’s death. Goodson had faced the most serious charge – murder. Goodson, Nero and Lt. Brian Rice were acquitted at trial last year. After the acquittals, prosecutors dropped the charges against the remaining three officers, Sgt. Alicia White, and officers Garrett Miller and Porter, whose first trial ended in a hung jury.