State trooper Christopher Baldner this Thursday, February 2, avoided the most serious charge he faces for his part in the death of eleven-year-old Monica Goods.
Citing that the evidence presented to the grand jury was not found to be legally sufficient, judge Bryan E. Rounds of the Ulster County Court dismissed the count of murder in the second degree.
The death of eleven-year-old Monica Goods should never have happened, according to a statement from state senator Michelle Hinchey. “While the ‘depraved indifference’ murder charge against state trooper Christopher Baldner was dismissed today,” wrote Hinchey, “the fact still unequivocally remains that this man used his police vehicle as a weapon and murdered an innocent child. I stand with our community against the ruling on this charge.” Hinchey expressed confidence about attorney general Letitia James’ “commitment to delivering justice for Monica and answers to her family so they may begin to find peace.”
Other local political figures expressed similar sentiments.
The 43-year-old state police officer is still charged with manslaughter in the second degree, a Class C felony which carries with it a potential prison sentence of anywhere from three to 15 years as well as a fine of up to $5000.
Six charges of reckless endangerment also remain for the Troop T lawman, but were knocked down from first- to second-degree charges, which still carry up to a year in jail for each instance, though fines and probation are also possible.
The charges stem from a traffic stop gone horribly wrong three days before Christmas in 2021.
Tristan Goods was driving in a 2017 Dodge Journey, described as a crossover SUV, with his wife and two daughters, aged eleven and twelve, on the way to visit family for Christmas when Baldner stopped Goods for a traffic infraction. Monica was in the back seat.
A digital audio recording of the stop introduced into the court record describes an argument which developed between Goods and Baldner, with Goods growing heated and refusing to produce his license or registration.
“I’m not going to do anything you ask me to do,” Goods said.
Baldner advised Goods that if he wouldn’t produce his license, the trooper would place him under arrest.
“Go fuck yourself,” Goods said. He refused to exit the vehicle.
Baldner attempted to place the Goods under arrest. A struggle ensued. With Goods still inside the vehicle. Baldner deployed pepper spray, spraying into the vehicle. Goods wife and children couldn’t help but breathe the capsicum.
Goods managed to grab Baldner’s pepper spray out of his hand before jamming the gas pedal.
Experiencing shortness of breath and tearing eyes, Goods then took off north along a stretch of the New York State Thruway in the Town of Ulster, pushing the SUV to 110 m.p.h. Baldner gave chase for 49 seconds.
Having closed the distance traveling at 130 m.p.h., Baldner rammed the rear of the Goods vehicle. Nine seconds later, the officer rammed the vehicle a second time, causing Goods to lose control. Two miles north of Exit 19, the vehicle spun into the center median barrier, traveling in a counterclockwise yaw, struck the barrier, flipped over, rolled and came to rest partially on a guiderail. Monica, who had been ejected out of the vehicle, was pinned underneath, deceased.
On the recording, still coughing while he gives his version of events, the trooper said he had actually taken the brunt of the pepper spray because the wind threw it back on him.
Police officers in New York State are not permitted to undertake a high-speed pursuit without the express permission of a supervisor, which Baldner had not received.
On this section of the Thruway, where there are exits every ten or 15 miles, an officer in pursuit can confidently trail suspects and radio ahead for assistance in the form of spike strips or for backup to de-escalate the situation.
Instead, Baldner chose to employ what’s called a precision immobilization technique, or PIT. The idea is to force a moving vehicle into a spin to force a stop. As a crime scene and death cleanup organization website notes, the maneuver is “not always useful, particularly in high-speed chases because of high risk for injury or even death.”
This wasn’t the first time trooper Baldner had employed the PIT technique. He had a penchant for ramrodding vehicles
An incident submitted to the grand jury alleged that on January 19, 2017 near mile marker 103 on the same highway in the Town of Saugerties, Baldner had rammed a 1979 MG causing the driver to lose control, spin into a median, and crash into a guide rail
On September 6, 2019 it was alleged that Baldner rammed the back end of a vehicle on the Thruway, a 2018 Dodge Caravan operated by Jonathan Muthu, causing the driver to lose control, spin into the median, and crash into a guardrail.
That incident accounted for three of the reckless endangerment charges added to Baldner’s total, a count each for Muthu and his two passengers in the Caravan at the time. The other three reckless endangerment charges are for Tristan Goods, his wife and their surviving daughter.
Baldner’s defense attempted to have the charges heard at separate trials. The motion was denied.
An exhibit of the trooper’s automatic vehicle location logs from December 3 to December 18 of 2021submitted to the court, records short bursts of high-speed acceleration on the Thruway, when Baldner’s vehicle reached speeds of 128 miles per hour. Allegedly, no emergencies existed to justify the excessive speed on the public thoroughfare.
“The submission before a jury of 196 separate moments,” wrote judge Rounds, “where this defendant drove over 80 and near 130 standing alone lends itself to showing only a defendant’s desire and capacity to break laws that non-police are constrained to abide.”
It was considered too prejudicial for the grand jury to consider the officer’s high-speed record on previous occasions. Trying to keep Baldner’s other rammings out of the record, the defense argued that lay jurors were most frequently incapable of such sophisticated legal compartmentalization.
“Police officers are entrusted to protect and serve,” said state attorney general Letitia James at the time she announced the indictment. “But trooper Baldner allegedly violated that trust when he used his car as a deadly weapon and killed a young girl. While nothing will bring Monica back, we must hold law enforcement to the highest standards, which is why my office is committed to seeking justice in this case.”
The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow.