Ulster County Judge Bryan Rounds denied bail on Wednesday, November 3, to State Trooper Christopher Baldner who was jailed last week on a second-degree murder charge in connection with the death of 11-year-old Monica Goods after Balder allegedly intentionally rammed her family’s minivan off the road after a high-speed chase on the Thruway in the town of Ulster on Dec. 22, 2020.
In denying the bail request at a hearing in Ulster County Court, Rounds noted the seriousness of the charges which include not only second-degree murder, but also second-degree manslaughter and felony reckless endangerment. Combined the charges could carry anywhere from 27 1/3 years to life in prison.
The charges were handed up in a Grand Jury indictment obtained by State Attorney General Letitia James on October 27. The Attorney General is the prosecutor in this matter pursuant to New York Executive Order 147 and Executive Order 7, both of which were signed by former governor Andrew Cuomo.
In making the decision Rounds said he believes Baldner does pose a significant flight risk and was not moved by an argument by the defendant’s attorney that Baldner turned himself in within 16 hours of the indictment. Rounds said remanding the defendant in custody was the least restrictive means of ensuring Baldner, who remains on the state police payroll, would appear in court.
Rounds asserted that Baldner is presumed innocent until proven otherwise and that he wants this case to be tried in the court and not out in the streets or otherwise.
Not a word was spoken by the public, which packed the courthouse during the entire proceeding that lasted nearly two hours. Members of Goods’ family and supporters lined one side of the courtroom while on the other, fellow troopers included New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association President Thomas Mungeer. The Albany Times Union reported earlier this week that the union had set up a fundraising effort to support Baldner.
Local and New York City media crowded the courtroom with cameras from WCBS, WNBC AND WABC occupying one corner of the courtroom.
“The evidence, in this case, will overwhelmingly and unequivocally show that the defendant intentionally rammed his police vehicle into the vehicle he was pursuing on the night of December 22, 2020, not once but twice within a period of nine seconds,” Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Gashi said. “This intentional act of ramming by the police cruiser caused the Goods’ vehicle to lose control, flip over and cause an 11-year-old girl to die.” The assistant AG said Tristan Goods was driving Northbound on the Thruway near mile 92 that night when Baldner pulled him over for speeding. That’s when Baldner began arguing with Tristan Goods, Gashi said. After the argument, she said, was when Baldner sprayed pepper spray into the family minivan, affecting all the occupants, including two children back in the car.
The assistant AG said Goods was scared and fled the scene. Evidence taken from the event data recorders of both cars shows that the defendant pursued Goods at a speed of 130 mph. Speaking for the prosecution, she said the data shows that Goods never made an abrupt action or slammed on his brakes.
“The evidence from the cars will show this is an intentional ramming and the defendant instead of braking to avoid the collision accelerated 100 percent into the back of the Goods’ vehicle.”
Gashi said the police car first hit Goods’ vehicle in the rear at over 100 mph and then the second time caused the driver to lose control. According to reports the vehicle flipped over more than once and ended up on its roof.
“Rather than being accidental the defendants’ actions were willful, deliberate and depraved,” Gashi said. She asserted that Baldner’s actions were contrary to state police procedures that ban ramming maneuvers and require permission from a supervisor to engage in a non-emergency high-speed pursuit.
This isn’t the first time Baldner was involved in a ramming incident, Gashi said. Baldner was on the very same stretch of highway on September 6, 2019, but heading southbound when he got into a high-speed pursuit with another individual he was attempting to pull over for speeding and again he rammed their vehicle, sending it careening into the center guardrail.
Baldner’s defense attorney John Ingrassia painted Baldner as a longtime resident of the area who resides with his wife and two kids, ages eight and 13, in a home in Greene County. He is a 19-year veteran of the force who worked in the state police Troop-K’s Rhinebeck barracks before moving to the Troop-T Kingston barracks
“Those community ties are very, very great and he’s been a resident of this area ever since his graduation from the state police academy in 2003,” Ingrassia said.
Ingrassia sought to illustrate a different picture of what transpired that evening on Dec. 22, 2020.
He said after the Goods vehicle was stopped at 101 mph in a 65 mph zone, Baldner made repeated requests for the driver to identify himself and provide his license and registration.
“We do not believe the evidence will show there was instantaneous of his division issued pepper spray, but it was only utilized after these repeated requests were not adhered to by the operator,” Ingrassia said, adding that the spraying only took place after Baldner had advised Tristan Goods he was under arrest. That’s when Goods took off, Ingrassia said. He acknowledged there were two contacts between the vehicles but did not offer more details.
“As a result of that, Trooper Baldner realized he was under investigation,” Ingrassia said.
He pointed out that a law would automatically begin termination proceedings for Baldner from the State Police should he flee, was a big incentive for him to remain at home. Ingrassia asked for $100,000 cash bail or $250,000 secured insurance company bond and he proposed that Baldner remain under house arrest with electronic monitoring, supervised by the Greene County Probation Department.
“This will put Mr. Baldner and his family in financial hardship,” Ingrassia said, arguing that nothing in the record shows Baldner to be a flight risk. Ingrassia said Baldner voluntarily surrendered on October 27 and plans to aggressively fight the charges in court.
Rounds, however, was unmoved by Ingrassia’s arguments. And in making his decision he noted the state’s bail reform law of 2019 bars judges from considering such matters as being a local resident or being in the same job for a long period of time in handing down decisions.
“With the evidence presented here today, the court has no choice but to remand the defendant without bail,” Rounds said.
Baldner is set to appear again in court on February 18, 2022.