After a third acquittal in the series of trials of Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, observers were second guessing the prosecution’s case and strategy. But so far that strategy has yielded nothing for a Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office that vowed that those responsible for Gray’s death would be held accountable.
In May Officer Edward Nero was cleared of charges in Gray’s death and last month, Officer Caesar Goodson was also acquitted. Both were bench trials in which Judge Barry Williams was allowed to decide whether or not to convict them. So far, the only jury trial was that of Officer William Porter, which ended in a hung jury last December and even then jurors were one vote shy of acquitting him.
Some have suggested the case was prepared with a jury in mind, which leads to a question of whether or not the prosecutors had hoped to gain sympathy with a jury.
So with this latest acquittal, of Lt. Brian Rice, on Monday (also a bench trial), Williams told the court something similar to the outcomes of the other cases. “This case cannot be swayed by sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion,” he said. In his decision in the Rice case, the judge decided not to buy into the State’s case based on inferred inference, or assumptions of what happened, rather than hard evidence.
But Defense Attorney Warren Brown who has watched the case, clarified Judge Williams multiple admonitions to the State on using inferred inference: “It’s just not there. I’m not going to draw assumptions, make assumptions or presume anything,” Brown said. “I need the evidence. If you don’t present to me…this is the result you’re going to continue to get.”
There are two more trials left; Officer Garrett Miller on July 27 and Sgt. Alicia White on Oct. 13. Porter’s retrial is scheduled for Sept. 6. Miller was granted immunity in an earlier trial, which prevents his statements in prior testimony from being used at his proceedings.
That may be one less weapon that the prosecution has in an already weakened arsenal.
University of Maryland School Law Professor, Douglass Colbert knows the task at hand is difficult, “to overcome a culture of non-prosecution and not being able to convict is going to require very strong evidence.”
State Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby wasn’t in court for the Rice decision. Her office didn’t disclose her whereabouts because of recent death threats. She and her office are under intense scrutiny about whether to prosecute the remaining officers.
But despite the prosecution’s losses, some progress has come out of the trials. New polices ordered by Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis have taken root. All prisoners are required to be belted in vans, mass emails regarding policy changes must be read daily and a receipt must be delivered back to police headquarters.
“We’re not making a major step forward but we are going forward,” said a frustrated Arthur B. Johnson Jr. who demonstrated alone outside the courthouse.
Professor Colbert knows this is a tough case to prosecute, but hopes for a silver lining. “Police are now on notice, that they must protect the people who they take into custody. And what happen to Freddie Gray must never ever happen to anyone else.”