Prospect of conviction seems vanishingly small, but trial continues nonetheless
The courts have scheduled the next trial in State Attorney’s apparently pathological persecution of innocent police officers charged in the death of community drug-dealer Freddie Gray on Thursday. This time the victim is Baltimore Police Department Lieutenant Brian Rice, the most senior of the six officers charged in Gray’s death. They have charged Rice is with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment. He is free on $350,000 bail. Like every other officer charged in the case, Rice has pleaded not guilty.
To date, the state has unsuccessfully tried three of the six officers in Gray’s death. The first, Officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury, and scheduled to be retried. The second and third, of Officer Edward Nero and van driver Officer Caesar Goodson, were both bench trials and in both cases trial judge Barry Williams acquitted the officers of all charges. The Baltimore Sun reports that this morning Lt. Rice notified the court that he also elected a bench trial.
The prosecution in these trials has been characterized by a seemingly random interchange of variable theories of the case, none of which appear supported by actual evidence. The prosecution has also repeatedly failed to meet it’s discovery obligations, and has already been substantively sanctioned by Judge Williams for their repeated failure to share exculpatory and other evidence in a timely manner. These lapses include the failure to disclose evidence indicating that Gray’s death was initially believed accidental by the medical examiner and not a homicide.
Their failure to disclose evidence repeated again this morning when the prosecution had failed until last Tuesday to provide the defense with thousands of pages of Lt. Rice’s training that they intended to introduce as evidence. Judge Williams responded by excluding those training documents from evidence, a sanction which Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Schatzow appeared to shrug off, as reported by the Baltimore Sun–their past efforts to get similar training claims into evidence faltered because the trainers who were testifying were themselves uncertain what exactly had been taught and whether the officers on trial had actually attended. As the Sun reported today:
Schatzow shrugged, and said prosecutors weren’t sure if they could even prove that Rice attended the training or that it was conducted according to the curriculum. He cited the testimony of a police trainer and defense withess [sic] in the Goodson trial, whose testimony prosecutors successfully had stricken because she couldn’t say for sure whether she had trained Goodson.
It was Lt. Rice who first observed Freddie Gray flee from the scene of increased police drug enforcement in the high crime neighborhood in Baltimore’s 7th District, behavior that justified officers in pursing and stopping Gray. Observing Gray’s unprompted flight at the sight of police, Lt. Rice called for the assistance of other nearby officers to stop Gray. Gray would be found with a knife illegal under Baltimore City Code and arrested. Officer Garrett Miller, who would make the actual arrest of Gray, came to Rice’s aid. The courts still need to schedule Miller for trial. The other was Edward Nero, who had only an ancillary role in Gray’s arrest and transport in the van. As noted above, Nero has already been acquitted of all charges by Judge Williams.
The prosecution has already conceded that Gray’s stop and arrest were “probably” legal, and neither the stop nor arrest has been an issue in any of the preceding trials. (It is notable, but now rarely reported, that the calls for increased drug enforcement in this particular community were initiated by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby–who is leading the prosecutions of these officers–at the prompting of her husband, Baltimore 7th District City Councilman Nick Mosby.)
The state has essentially presented three theories of the case for the guilt of the six charged officers. These are: Theory #1: Murder by Failure to Seatbelt, Theory #2: Murder by Failure to Provide Medical Care, Theory #3: Murder by Rough Ride. It is unclear which of these the state believes could be applicable to Lt. Rice.
To take them in reverse numerical order, Theory #3: Murder by Rough Ride is irrelevant to Rice, because it was Goodson (already acquitted) who was driving the van.
Theory #2: Murder by Failure to Provide Medical Care would similarly seem to be irrelevant to Rice, because the state’s own medical examiner has testified that Gray’s injury did not occur until after the second stop of the police van, a point by which Rice had ceased interacting with Gray.
Theory #1: Murder by Failure to Seatbelt also seems impossibly difficult to pin on Rice, given that if any officer had primary responsibility for seat belting suspects in the van it would be van driver Caesar Goodson, who was acquitted by Judge Williams of precisely this allegation only days ago.
Nevertheless, this morning Judge Williams again rejected a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Lt. Rice, as he has similarly dismissed similar motions by each of the officers, and Rice’s trial is now scheduled to begin with opening statements on Thursday.
OK folks, that’s it for now. Breaking news as it occurs, as per SOP.
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