On Monday, Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams acquitted Lt. Brian Rice, the highest ranking of the six officers charged in the Freddie Gray case, of all charges in Gray’s death.
Rice, 42, had been charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office; a second-degree assault charge was dismissed by Williams halfway through the trial, and prosecutors dropped a second misconduct charge at the beginning of the trial.
Rice was the fourth officer to be tried in Gray’s death; Williams dismissed charges against officer Edward Nero in May and officer Caesar Goodson Jr. in June. Officer William Porter’s case reached a mistrial last December when there was no jury consensus.
Gray died a week after a 40-minute ride in a police van during which he suffered a severe spinal cord injury. He had been arrested for allegedly possessing an illegal knife. His death triggered riots and mayhem in Baltimore.
In dismissing the charges against Rice, Williams said prosecutors did not prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, but rather wanted the judge to depend on “presumptions or assumptions.” In a possible veiled reference to events that have occurred around the nation as the Black Lives Matter movement has catalyzed protests and police officers have been targeted, he added that the court “cannot be swayed by sympathy, prejudice or public opinion.”
Rice’s attorneys argued that Rice made a 9-second decision that was 100 percent reasonable because Gray was combative, there was little room in the van to move him around, and a hostile crowd was growing around the police. Williams pointed out that he had to take the atmosphere in which the incident with Gray occurred into context; noting that “emotions and tensions ran high” that day. He added there was a need for officers to leave the scene quickly because of threats, and that Rice was not aware of a change in police policy implemented only days that removed an officer’s discretion as to whether to secure a detainee in a seat belt. The new policy required that action.
Williams asserted that Rice did not act in a “grossly negligent manner,” which would have indicated a ruling for manslaughter; that Rice did not act unreasonably or ignore substantial risk in placing Gray in a police van without a seat belt, which would have indicated reckless endangerment; that Rice did not act “corruptly,” a required for misconduct in office. He acknowledged Rice may have made a mistake, but that was not enough to warrant criminal charges against him. He also pointed the difference between criminal negligence and civil negligence, tacitly acknowledging the already-negotiated deal the Gray family struck with the city in which they obtained $6.4 million in civil damages.
Williams pointed out that he had to take the atmosphere in which the incident with Gray occurred into context; noting that “emotions and tensions ran high” that day.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby has been determined to prosecute all six officers involved with the case; the latest result will not likely deter her from dropping charges against the two remaining officers, officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had infamously stated about protesters after Gray’s death, “It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well …” made sure to announce that Rice’s ordeal was not over yet, asserting, “Now that the criminal case has come to an end, Lt. Rice will face an administrative review by the Police Department.”