After four days of testimony and essentially the same evidence as previous trials, Lieutenant Brian Rice was found not guilty on all charges in the death of Freddie Gray on Monday morning.
Rice is the highest ranked officer charged in the death of Gray, a 25-year-old African American man who died from a fatal neck injury while in police custody. Judge Barry Williams presided over the trial.
Rice was charged with manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. An assault charge was thrown out by Judge Williams halfway through the trial due to insufficient evidence.
Rice was the fourth officer on trial for the death of Freddie Gray. Officers Edward Nero and Officer Caesar Goodson were acquitted in a bench trial by the same judge. Officer William Porter’s trial ended in a hung jury last year and he is scheduled to be retried.
Two more officers, Officer Garrett Miller and Sergeant Alicia White are still pending trials.
This trial produced no new evidence and served as more of a replay of the state’s past presentations— the witness docket was almost identical.
The prosecutor's core argument this time around was that, as the commander of the shift, it was Lt. Rice’s duty to seatbelt Gray himself or order another officer to do so when he was put into the police van.
“Lieutenants are the leaders of the patrol division,” said prosecutor Janice Bledsoe during closing arguments. “Lieutenant Rice’s decisions cannot be blamed on poor judgment or errors,” she said. “If he had taken one ounce of compassion and humanity, Freddie Gray would be alive.”
The state went to great lengths to show Rice was aware of department seatbelt policies and choose to ignore them—which is where his culpability lies. “The failure to seat belt is the basis of the crime,” said prosecutor Michael Schatzow during the trial, compared the act to “handing someone a loaded gun.”
Officers Nero and Porter were called once again by the state to testify. But this time around the strategy was heavily centered on discrediting their truthfulness. "The police officers testified the van was shaking, the two civilians said it wasn't," said prosecutor Michael Schatzow. “You have the job to choose who you believe."
The defense painted a different story surrounding the “inventory of information” available to Rice at the time, which prompted his “split-second decision.” This includes crowd, which defense says became “hostile” and “angry” upon seeing Gray’s arrest. His only option was to “move fast” and get the police van out of the area.
Gray’s arrest became a “rapidly evolving-situation and you can’t project hindsight on these situations,” said defense attorney Michael Belsky. “Everything my client did was professional, correct, appropriate, and most of all reasonable,” he said told Judge Williams in his closing argument.
Belsky also highlighted that Rice never had custody of Gray, which shows the absence of any “duty” towards him.
Gray’s death ignited protests, riots, and violence in Baltimore last year as the predominantly African American community decried what they see as discriminatory treatment by law enforcement. The case came in a wave of police misconduct allegations against African American boys and men that swept the country in areas including Chicago and North Charleston.
In response, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six officers separately for their involvement in Gray’s death. "To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for, 'No justice, no peace,” said Mosby.
While this decision was lauded by many segments of the city, the repeated failure to get a conviction will undoubtedly continue to turn up the heat on Mosby and her office.