By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — On Thursday, we will learn if prosecutors are shifting their strategy when they lay out their case during opening statements in the trial of Lieutenant Brian Rice.

Rice is the highest-ranking officer charged in Freddie Gray’s death and faces assault, misconduct, manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges.

The controversy stems from evidence prosecutors failed to turn over to the defense until just days ago — Rice’s training records. They said it took months to get them from the police department, but police now say that’s not true.

Almost 18 years ago, shortly after Brian Rice joined the police force, he was hailed as a hero for rescuing a child from a burning building.

“It’s hard to imagine what would have happened. It’s good we got there when we did,” Rice said in November of 1998.

Now, the lieutenant faces felony charges as the latest officer on trial in connection with Freddie Gray’s death and arrest.

It all started at North and Mount, where Lieutenant Rice on bike patrol first made eye contact with Freddie Gray and Gray ran. Rice also helped load him into the police van.

A key part of the state’s argument is that Rice should have secured Gray with a seat belt. A critical question for the judge — were Rice’s actions reasonable?

Prosecutors will stress his role as the highest-ranking officer and focus on his training. But the judge ruled prosecutors can’t use 4,000 pages of documents detailing that training because they waited too long to turn them over to the defense.

Prosecutors say they asked police for them months ago. But in a new statement to WJZ, police deny that, saying the department only received the request on June 18 and paid staffers overtime to quickly find and copy all those records.

“It’s certainly a setback that the state didn’t get the chance to probe and mine through those documents to find out whether there was any smoking gun in there that said that this officer specifically knew that he had an obligation to seat belt Freddie Gray,” said Adam Ruther, Rosenberg Martin Greenberg.

Even stressing Rice’s supervisory role, prosecutors face the same judge who’s rejected their arguments in the past.

“I don’t think there’s any chance that the case is going to get better. I think it’s going to be more difficult to prosecute the remaining officers,” said Warren Alperstein, lawyer and courtroom observer.

Court resumes at 9:30 a.m. Thursday with opening statements.

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