The dismissal of the second degree assault charge against Lt. Brian Rice is just another setback for prosecutors in the Freddie Gray case who have yet to secure a conviction through three trials.
Officer William Porter’s trial ended in a hung jury last December. He is to be re-tried in September. Officers Edward Nero and Caesar Goodson were acquitted by Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams in May and June, respectively.
And prosecutors have been having a hard time proving Rice bears any responsibility for Gray’s April 2015 death from a severe spinal injury.
In addition to Circuit Judge Barry Williams' dismissal of the assault charge, prosecutors dropped one count of misconduct in office stemming frmo Gray's initial detainment.
The remaining charges against Rice are involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and another misconduct in office count.
The great challenge, according to University of Baltimore Law School Professor David Jaros, is “proving that officer Rice in the moment he failed to seat belt Mr. Gray was conscious of the risks he was placing Mr. Gray; given the circumstances at the scene; given how Mr. Gray was acting at the scene.”
But, he says, prosecutors have yet to present evidence that is stronger than what they used against Officer Caesar Goodson. That was their strongest case, yet Goodson was cleared of all charges including the most serious charge, second degree depraved heart murder.
“So far the state has only offered circumstantial evidence that suggests that Lt. Rice was in the vehicle,” Jaros said. “They have challenged the defendant’s assertions that this was a truly aggressive, chaotic scene.”
It hasn’t helped that prosecutors have not been able to show that Rice was a highly trained officer who should have known better. Judge Williams barred the use of thousands of documents tracking Rice’s training since he completed police academy training 17 years ago.
Jaros says the documents would have bolstered prosecutors’ arguments, but it’s hard to say whether they would have helped.
“We don’t know exactly what was in the curriculum and how hard it would be for them to prove that Lt. Rice had actually been taught those things,” he said, adding this was the very same kind of evidence prosecutors objected to the defense bringing in to Goodson’s trial.
Jaros also says if he had to predict at this point the outcome of the Rice trial, it would seem likely Judge Williams will once again find reasonable doubt and hand prosecutors another defeat in what is becoming an ever more difficult case to prove.