The trial of Baltimore police Lt. Brian Rice, one of the bike patrolmen who arrested Freddie Gray before his death last year, began Thursday. But in an unsurprising move, Rice has opted for a bench trial. It’s been a winning strategy for the officers who have already been acquitted in the death of Gray. Officers Edward Nero and Caesar Goodson were found not guilty of all charges during their bench trials. Judge Barry Williams has acted as both judge and jury in the prior proceedings.
Rice is charged with involuntary manslaughter, second degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office.
He is the highest ranking officer charged. Previous testimony shows that Rice initiated chasing Gray, and he assists with placing the prisoner in the police van, but doesn’t seatbelt him in. The court is expected to learn what Rice told investigators immediately following the incident. The information will be presented as evidence by the prosecution.
Courtroom observers have noted if the prosecution couldn’t get a conviction on Goodson, who was charged with depraved heart murder–the equivalent of second degree murder– the remaining cases would be difficult to prove. At least one observer, defense attorney Warren Brown, noted that each case is different and “should stand on its own.”
Several motions to dismiss the case were denied, and all the charges will stand.
During a pre-trial hearing, the judge once again chastised the prosecution for not turning over evidence to Rice’s defense team. Apparently, some four thousand pages related to the training of the bike officer was discovered, but the judge ruled the items could not be brought forth in court. In the past, the judge has reprimanded the prosecution and imposed penalties against the state. This most recent banning of evidence is no different. The Rice defense team argued the new discovery could be beneficial to them. The judge must determine if only the defense team gets the new evidence or it should be shared by both sides.
As the trial opened, though, a significant piece of testimony was heard in the courtroom as Medical Examiner Carol Allan testified that she determined Freddie Gray's death in police custody was a homicide in part because he lacked the "extreme force" required to snap his own neck .
"If a seat belt had been used, then the type of injury Mr. Gray sustained would not have occurred," Allan said. She did clarify that her homicide determination "is a definition that has no standing, legally," and that it simply means "death at the hands of another."
Attorney Chaz Ball said during opening arguments that the young black man was kicking and screaming during and after his arrest, and attracted a crowd, creating a dangerous environment for police.
Ball told Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams Rice's "nine-second decision" not to put Gray into a seat belt "wasn't criminal negligence, it was 100 percent reasonable."