Lt. Brian Rice Latest Officer to Be Acquitted of All Charges In Freddie Gray Case

Photo from the trial of Lt. Brian Rice, the highest-ranking Baltimore police officer charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.
Photo from the trial of Lt. Brian Rice, the highest-ranking Baltimore police officer charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.

Prosecutors in Baltimore have failed for the fourth time to secure a conviction in the Freddie Gray case, with Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams acquitting Lt. Brian Rice of all charges related to Gray’s arrest and death.

Williams cleared Rice, 42, of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office in a downtown Baltimore courtroom on Monday morning. The judge had dismissed a second-degree assault charge at the trial’s midpoint, and prosecutors dropped a second misconduct charge at the start.

Rice selected a bench trial rather than a jury trial, putting his legal fate in Williams’ hands. He was the fourth of six officers charged in the case to go to trial.

Williams said prosecutors had failed to meet their burden of proving the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, instead asking the court to rely on “presumptions or assumptions” — something it cannot do. He said the court “cannot be swayed by sympathy, prejudice or public opinion.”

Based on the law, he said, the prosecution failed to prove the elements of the crimes.

The prosecution did not show Rice acted in a “grossly negligent manner,” required of manslaughter, he said. It did not show that Rice acted in an unreasonable way or ignored the substantial risk in placing Gray in a police van without a seat belt, required for reckless endangerment, he said. And, it did not show Rice acted “corruptly,” which is required for misconduct in office, he said.

Prosecutors alleged Rice, the highest-ranking officer of the six charged, had caused Gray’s death by failing to secure him in a seat belt in the back of the police transport van in which he suffered severe spinal cord injuries last year. Gray, 25, died a week after his arrest. His death sparked widespread protests against police brutality.

Williams said a “mistake” or an “error in judgment” by Rice was not enough to prove the crimes alleged. He also noted the difference between criminal negligence and civil negligence, an apparent nod to the fact that the city previously negotiated with Gray’s family attorney, William H. “Billy” Murphy, on the civil side and agreed to pay the family $6.4 million.

“Here, the failure to seat belt may have been a mistake or it may have been bad judgement, but without showing more than has been presented to the court concerning the failure to seat belt and the surrounding circumstances, the state has failed to meet its burden to show that the actions of the defendant rose above mere civil negligence,” Williams said.

Murphy was not present in court, and could not immediately be reached for comment. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who announced the charges against the six officers in a high-profile news conference in May 2015, also did not attend.

Rice appeared calm, staring forward and showing no emotion as Williams announced each not-guilty ruling. At the adjacent table, Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe, who prosecuted the case, shook their heads. Schatzow sat with his chin resting on his hand for much of the Williams’ comments. At one point, Bledsoe leaned back in her chair and rolled her head around.

When Williams adjourned the proceedings, Rice stood and shook hands with his attorneys and Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union that represents officers in Baltimore. With his acquittal, Rice will have his pay restored by the Baltimore Police Department and he will be subject to an internal administrative review of his actions.

Rice’s family members, who were present for the ruling, declined a request for comment.

Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver who was acquitted last month of second-degree depraved heart murder and other charges in Gray’s death, smiled and shook Rice’s hand as the courtroom emptied. The city last week authorized a payment of $87,000 to Goodson as backpay for the time he spent without a paycheck. Rice is likely to also receive back pay.

Officer Edward Nero, who also was acquitted of all charges in May, greeted Rice and his supporters at the front of the room following the ruling.

Officer Garrett Miller was also in the courtroom, sitting with Nero and Goodson. Miller is scheduled to go to trial next, on July 27.

Officer William Porter, who had a mistrial in December after a 12-member jury could not reach a consensus on any of the charges against him, was not present, though his attorney was in the room. Also not in the room was Sgt. Alicia White, who is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 13. All of the officers have pleaded not guilty.

Rice’s acquittal drew disappointment, though little surprise, from activists and civil rights leaders, including Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“After four trials there is still no accountability for the death of Freddie Gray in police custody,” Ifill said in a statement. “We remain resolute to work toward changing policing practices in Baltimore.”

Rice’s acquittal also renewed calls for Mosby to drop the remaining charges in the case, including from the FOP union.

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SOURCE: The Baltimore Sun – Kevin Rector