Trial highlights tensions between police and prosecutors

AP News
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Posted: Jun 16, 2016 6:43 PM

BALTIMORE (AP) — Tensions between police and prosecutors surfaced Thursday in the trial of a Baltimore officer charged with murdering a prisoner, as a prosecutor said he tried to have the lead detective removed from the case last year because he believed she was "sabotaging the investigation" by holding back information.

The testy exchange in court between chief deputy state's attorney Michael Schatzow and Detective Dawnyell Taylor during Officer Caesar Goodson's trial highlighted tensions that arose in the investigation into six police officers charged in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray last year. The cross-examination concerned Taylor's notes on her meetings with an assistant medical examiner in April 2015 about Gray's cause of death.

Gray died about a week after his neck was broken in the back of a police transport wagon. His death touched off the worst riots in Baltimore in decades.

While prosecutors contend Gray was murdered, Taylor said Dr. Carol Allan initially called Gray's death "a freakish accident," one that "no human hands" could have caused.

Taylor's testimony is significant, because Allan called Gray's death a homicide in her official report. "I had an open mind, and after reading the medical records and performing the autopsy, that's when I said, this is not an accident," Allan testified last week. "The word 'accident' never crossed my lips."

But Taylor testified Thursday that Allan said Gray's death was an accident "about three times."

Schatzow asked if police who attended one of the meetings with the medical examiner were suggesting Gray's death was an accident. Taylor denied that.

"No one was suggesting anything to her," Taylor testified.

Schatzow noted there was friction between Taylor and prosecutor Janice Bledsoe during the investigation, when Bledsoe sought information from the detective. Taylor said Bledsoe had "a tantrum" during a review of documents. Schatzow asked if Taylor's notes about the medical examiner's initial cause-of-death comments were written after Taylor had had the problem with Bledsoe.

Taylor said some of her notes were written after her meeting with the medical examiner, but Taylor also noted she had problems with Bledsoe "about her integrity." Schatzow countered that Bledsoe had made allegations about Taylor's integrity.

Taylor said she was not removed from the case, but she was asked not to interact with Schatzow.

Later, Donta Allen, a prisoner who had been inside the police van with Gray, also was called to testify, wearing handcuffs and leg chains. He initially was reluctant to say anything about the April 12, 2015 van ride, saying he didn't remember. However, he answered questions from attorneys after he was shown a video of his interview with police after the ride. He told police at the time that he heard Gray banging his head while riding in the van. He also told them the ride was smooth. However, Allen testified Thursday he had used heroin and Xanax that day.

Under cross examination by Bledsoe, Allen said he couldn't see Gray through a divider and that he was guessing that Gray banged his head.

"I just heard moving around," Allen said, adding that the sound was "very low."

Asked by defense attorney Matthew Fraling about his statement to police that day that he was not using drugs, Allen replied: "I lied."

Earlier in the day, Judge Barry Williams ruled that the trial would go forward on all charges against Goodson. Defense attorneys had moved to have the charges dismissed for lack of evidence when prosecutors rested their case Wednesday. Williams said the most serious charge of second-degree "depraved heart" murder was "a closer call" than the others.

Goodson, 46, also faces manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless engenderment charges.

Defense attorney Andrew Graham contended Thursday that prosecutors had failed to prove Goodson gave Gray a "rough ride" as he was handcuffed and shackled on the floor.

But prosecutors cited Goodson's failure to get Gray medical attention and to seatbelt him in the van, despite multiple opportunities at several stops.

"It's at least five times, your honor," Schatzow said.

Prosecutors are still looking for their first conviction in the case, after their first case against another officer ended in a hung jury and their second resulted in the judge's acquittal of another.