Trial highlights tensions between police and prosecutors

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 highlighted tensions that arose during the investigation into six police officers who were 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 described Gray’s death as “a freakish accident,” one that “no human hands” could have caused.

“She said it was an accident,” Taylor testified.

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 during Officer Caesar Goodson’s trial. “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, but 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.

The testimony came on the sixth day of Goodson’s trial.

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. Graham noted that one of the state’s key witnesses, an expert on police policy, couldn’t say for sure whether he saw evidence of a rough ride — police lingo for putting a prisoner in a police wagon without a seatbelt and driving so erratically that he or she is thrown around.

The state “hasn’t introduced any proof at all,” Graham told the judge.

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.