Another Officer Is Acquitted
Cop in Baltimore’s Gray Case Not Guilty
BALTIMORE--It was the third straight acquittal, by the same judge, on the same set of facts: On Monday, Lt. Brian Rice, the highest-ranking Baltimore police officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray, was found not guilty of three charges, including involuntary manslaughter.
And a question that has been simmering among some legal observers ever since acquittals began piling up in the multi-defendant prosecution immediately turned to a full boil: With no convictions to show in four trials related to the death of Mr. Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who sustained a fatal spinal cord injury during an arrest in which he rode unsecured in a police van, should prosecutors drop a retrial and the two others that remain?
“It would seem at this point the state has exhausted all of its possible theories, and should give real consideration to ending these prosecutions,” said Warren Alperstein, a defense lawyer in Baltimore who has been closely following the trials. “There are many that would argue it’s time to cut the losses.”
Another local defense lawyer, Warren A. Brown, put it differently as he reflected on the fact that Judge Barry G. Williams had again determined that prosecutors did not present enough evidence to prove that the officer on trial had committed a crime.
“The facts are the same in all the cases,” Mr. Brown said. “If you keep going to the store with 89 cents, and they keep telling you you need a dollar, why are you going to keep going back?”
Defense lawyers are, by definition, apt to scrutinize prosecutors, and there has been no indication that prosecutors plan to drop the cases. Other observers have praised the trials for raising important issues. But the questions underscore the challenges as they press ahead.
Two of the three previous trials, of Officers Edward M. Nero and Caesar R. Goodson Jr., ended in acquittals. The trial of Officer William G. Porter was declared a mistrial.
The death of Mr. Gray in April 2015 shook this city to its core, spurring violent protests, and became a grim fixture of the reckoning over how police officers use force against minorities, particularly Black men.
In May of last year, the city’s top prosecutor, Marilyn J. Mosby, announced charges against six police officers in Mr. Gray’s death, prompting cheers from activists and quelling the nightly unrest that had gripped parts of the city. It was not expected to be easy; it is rare to charge police officers with crimes, and rarer still for them to be convicted.
Since then, cases of shootings by the police in Baton Rouge, La., and Falcon Heights, Minn., have outraged activists anew, and the country has been shaken by the deaths of eight police officers in two attacks, in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
And in Baltimore, prosecutors have scrutinized the same narrative in trial after trial, bringing little resolution to lingering questions about the death of Mr. Gray and failing to secure a single conviction against any of the officers. The outcomes have fueled criticism that Ms. Mosby’s charges were too ambitious or politically motivated, and have eroded the confidence, even among supporters of the trials, that a conviction can ever be secured.
“She put her job on the line--she put her life on the line to do the right thing, but where it happened and where it got lost, I don’t know,” said Tawanda Jones, who stood with a small group of demonstrators outside the downtown courthouse after the verdict was announced Monday. “I’m convinced that we will absolutely get no convictions.” Ms. Jones then headed to a news conference to mark the three years that have passed since the death of her brother, Tyrone West, after a struggle with the police.
Judge Williams, a former federal prosecutor who built winning cases against officers himself, read his verdict from the bench and began with a warning:
“At this time, and all times, it is critical for this court not to base any decision on public opinion or emotion,” he said before methodically dismantling the case against Lieutenant Rice, who was the officer who first called in the foot case of Mr. Gray in downtrodden West Baltimore. And, prosecutors said, he climbed into the van with Mr. Gray but failed to secure him with seatbelt, which they said had set in motion of chain of events that led to Mr. Gray’s death.
But Judge Williams said they had not proved that Lieutenant Rice was grossly negligent in failing to use a seatbelt on Mr. Gray or, indeed, that his failure to do so had led to Mr. Gray’s death.
“This court does not find that the state has proven that the defendant was aware that the failure to seatbelt created a risk of death or serious physical injury to Mr. Gray under the facts presented,” he said.
As the judge concluded his ruling, supporters of Lieutenant Rice pressed in to congratulate him. They included Officers Nero and Goodson and another officer, Garrett E. Miller, who is set to be tried this month. Ms. Mosby was not in the courtroom.
In addition to Officer Miller, Sgt. Alicia D. White and Officer Porter, who faces a retrial, are still set to have their day in court. Officers Miller and Porter will have to be tried by a new team of prosecutors, because they have already been questioned on the stand by the main prosecutors on the case.
“An office that believes a crime occurred can see benefits in making a statement that criminal activity will not be tolerated by their office and that they value the lives of every member of the community, and that can justify pursuing cases,” said David Jaros, an assistant professor of law at the University of Baltimore.
But, Professor Jaros added, “there’s no question that after today, the hurdles seem as high as they’ve ever been.”
BMarylyn Mosby, Baltimore’s state’s prosecutor, at a news conference some weeks ago.
Lt. Brian Rice, center in suit, leaving a Baltimore courthouse on Monday after he was found not guilty on charges in the death of Freddie Gray. He was the highest-ranking officer charged.
Left, Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., who was acquitted in the Freddie Gray case last month, on Monday. Right, Officers Garrett E. Miller, set to be tried this month, and Edward M. Nero, far right, who was acquitted in May, arriving Monday at the courthouse.
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