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Third officer in Freddie Gray case acquitted

P. Kenneth Burns

Lt. Brian Rice, the highest ranking officer among the six charged in last year’s death of Freddie Gray, was acquitted Monday of all the charges against him by Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams.

Rice was charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray.  Gray suffered a severe spinal injury in the back of a police van.  He died a week later.

Similar to verdicts he rendered in the trials of Officers Caesar Goodson and Edward Nero, Judge Williams intoned “The state has not shown…the state has failed to present any evidence…the state has not proven.

Rice was a highly trained officer, prosecutors said. He knew prisoners were supposed to be seat-belted.  And he knew the dangers associated with not doing so, they argued.

But Williams pointed out prosecutors weren’t able to present evidence of Lt. Rice’s training records. 

Williams forbade prosecutors from introducing thousands of records documenting Rice’s training since he graduated from the police academy because they weren’t turned over to Rice’s lawyers in time.

“The inability to present that evidence was based on a discovery violation by the State and the State must bear responsibility for its failure to provide discovery,” Williams said.

Williams did say prosecutors proved Rice received the email that updated police policy on seat-belting prisoners, requiring officers to put prisoners in a seatbelt in the back of a police van.

But they didn’t show that Rice actually read the updated policy, Williams said.

Former city prosecutor Warren Alperstein said he was not surprised by the judge’s verdict.

“It was a combination of the same theories as well as the same evidence that’s been put forth now in four trials and, again, Judge Williams has rejected all of the state’s arguments and theories,” Alperstein said.

Defense attorney Warren Brown, who has seen all four trials in the case, said the changing seat belt policies have been the lynchpin for a lot of the charges.

“In some instances, it’s been, you know, the judge has pointed out the state failed to show that these defendants read the changes in policy,” Brown said.

Yet, University of Maryland Law School Professor Doug Colbert credited State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby for bring charges against the officers.

He said the not guilty verdict is another step in making sure no one else suffers a fate similar to Gray’s.

“From this point forward, the police are certainly put on notice that they must provide care and safeguard prisoners.  I don’t think there’s any mistake that everyone is now real familiar with the commissioner’s order,” Colbert said.

The reaction

Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the city Fraternal Order of Police, said his group is pleased with the verdict; and once again called on Mosby to drop the charges against the remaining three officers.

“We again, strongly urge Mrs. Mosby to stop her malicious prosecution against the remaining three officers,” he said. “Based upon the evidence presented in previous trials, we are certain the remaining three officers will also be found not guilty.”

Ryan said prosecutors rushed to judgement.  And had they spent a little more time looking at the facts, they would have seen things as Judge Williams did.

It’s a point he and Warren Brown agreed upon.

Brown added it’s clear that no one knows exactly what happened to Freddie Gray. 

“Even a medical examiner mentioned that there had been no cameras in the van.  So no one knows,” Brown said.  “It was a tragedy; but that doesn’t mean someone is criminally liable.”

A handful of protesters gathered outside the courthouse, calling for justice for Freddie Gray.

Tawanda Jones, whose brother, Tyrone West, died in police custody three years ago Monday, was among them. She said the evidence was enough for her.

“Freddie Gray is dead.  He didn’t murder himself,” she said. “That’s enough evidence to me.  He didn’t hurt himself.”

Jones gave Mosby credit for pursuing charges, but said she could have done a better job.

“I feel like you didn’t charge the officers correctly,” she said. “Like if you not putting the right charge on them, of course they gonna get away with it.”

It is not known whether prosecutors will continue with the next trial; that of Officer Garrett Miller scheduled for July 27.

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