BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP) — Proceedings are scheduled to begin for the fourth Baltimore police officer slated to stand trial on charges stemming from the death of a 25-year-old prisoner whose neck was broken in the back of a police transport wagon.
Lt. Brian Rice, the highest-ranking officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray, will go to trial this week on manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office charges. A hearing on pre-trial motions opens Tuesday.
The trial comes on the heels of two recent acquittals in the cases against Officer Caesar Goodson, who faced a second-degree murder charge, and Officer Edward Nero, who faced misdemeanor charges stemming from Gray’s arrest. Both chose judge trials. The trial for a third officer, William Porter, ended in a mistrial in December. He’s schedule for retrial in September. The other two officers charged, Sgt. Alicia White and Officer Garrett Miller, filed motions to dismiss their cases last month.
The acquittals dealt a significant blow to the prosecution and to Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who has staked much of her reputation on these cases. Since charging the officers last May, Mosby has come under intense scrutiny for her decisions.
Five of the six officers, including Rice, have filed defamation suits against her, and a law professor filed a formal complaint with Maryland’s Attorney Grievance Commission. In the complaint, George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf alleges that Mosby pursued charges against the officers without probable cause, which is a violation of her professional oath.
Gray died April 19, a week after he suffered a critical spinal injury in Goodson’s wagon while he was handcuffed and shackled, but left unrestrained by a seat belt. His death prompted days of peaceful protests and prompted rioting across swaths of the city that suffered millions of dollars in property damage. Police commissioner Anthony Batts was fired and replaced with his deputy, Kevin Davis, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced she wouldn’t seek re-election. The U.S. Department of Justice also launched an investigation into allegations of excessive force and unlawful arrests.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams in his decisions said he decided to acquit the officers because the state produced no evidence, facts or viable witnesses to support their claims that the officers were criminally reckless and negligent when they failed to buckle Gray into a seat belt or call for a medic after Gray indicated that he wanted to go to a hospital.
Prosecutors say Rice made eye contact with Gray while he and two other men were walking in West Baltimore, and Gray took off running. Rice called for backup, and two officers — Miller and Nero — responded to the call. After Miller apprehended Gray, the three officers loaded him into a transport wagon. A few blocks later Goodson stopped the van, and the three officers took Gray out of the compartment to secure him in leg shackles. They then slid Gray into the wagon face-down on his belly.
Rice had been with the Baltimore Police Department for 17 years prior to Gray’s death and is currently suspended without pay. Rice was hospitalized over mental health concerns and was twice placed on administrative suspensions from the department in 2012 and 2013.
In the 2012 incident, police confiscated Rice’s official and personal firearms after fellow Baltimore police officer Karen McAleer, who is the mother of Rice’s child, requested a welfare check.
An attorney for the police union attributed Rice’s 2013 suspension to a protective order filed by McAleer’s then-boyfriend and said that “any issues similar to this had nothing to do with his ability to perform his duties as a Baltimore police officer.”
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