For the trial of Baltimore Police Lt. Brian Rice, 42, prosecutors are largely following the same script as in the previous trials: calling the same witnesses and following the same lines of questioning. The prosecution is focusing on its argument that Rice, as the highest-ranking of the six police officers who have faced or will face trials in the death of Freddie Gray, was the one largely responsible for keeping Gray safe.
Rice faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct charges. One misconduct charge, relating to whether he illegally arrested Gray, was dropped by the prosecution.
The prosecution’s focus is on the decision Rice made in not putting a seat belt on Gray when Rice was in the van with Gray at its second stop. The defense argues that the “three C’s” didn’t allow Rice to do that: an increasing crowd, the confined space of the van and the combativeness of Gray. Defense attorney Chaz Ball argues that the “three C’s” created an unsafe environment for Rice to put Gray in a seat belt.
In court Friday, Gray’s friend Brandon Ross was called as a witness, and he painted Rice as an officer who threatened him as Ross asked for help for Gray after he was put into the police van.
Ross testified that he headed back to the Gilmor Homes housing development to call 911 about how the police were treating his friend. Ross said he called 911 from a woman’s house in the neighborhood, telling the dispatcher that “they locked Freddie up for nothing and assaulted him.”
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Ross testified that he saw the officers, including Rice, at the second stop “pick [Gray] up and throw him in the paddy wagon head first on the floor.”
“I have never seen anyone taken out of a paddy wagon and put back in there like that,” Ross testified during questioning by prosecutor Janice Bledsoe.
Ross testified that he asked William Porter, another of the officers charged in the Gray case, if he could speak with a supervisor. Porter directed him to Rice.
“I asked him to get a supervisor, somebody to get this under control,” Ross testified, regarding what he said to Rice. “He told me, ‘I am the supervisor.’ He told me to leave before he locked me up, and he started reaching for his Taser.”
Other witnesses called by the prosecution included Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan, who was steadfast in her decision to rule Gray’s death a homicide and said that the injury happened before the fourth stop. Prosecutors also called on a neurosurgeon, who agreed with the medical examiner’s assessment, and the police commissioner’s chief of staff, who was one of the creators of an updated policy around putting seat belts on detainees.
Allan testified that if Gray had been wearing a seat belt, he would not have suffered the injuries, and that if an officer had called a medic after Gray was injured, his life would have been saved.
“I think it is a hard case to win,” University of Baltimore law professor David Jaros said regarding the uphill battle for the prosecution. “But it is a different case, and we don’t know what Lt. Rice said in his statement. We haven’t heard all the evidence.”
Defense attorney Warren Brown, who has been following the case, questioned the prosecution’s strategy.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In this case, they are doing the same thing over and over,” Brown said. “The prosecution has to prove in those nine seconds [when Rice put Gray in the van] that Lt. Rice possessed a state of mind that reflected an ill will or contempt or desire to bring some harm to Freddie Gray, and they just don’t have that. The fact that he’s not seat-belted in, the judge made that very clear, that is insufficient from a criminal point of view in the other cases.”
Doug Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor who has been in the courtroom every day, said he thinks that there is still hope for the prosecution.
“They can show that Lt. Rice is a supervising officer and he helped place Freddie Gray inside the van, left him shackled and cuffed in an unsafe situation and then left him there. Can a fact finder conclude that something was going to be happening to Gray? What could the lieutenant think would happen to Freddie Gray when he was left in that unsafe situation? How could he not have been aware of the substantial risk of injury that Gray was being exposed to when he left the van and left Gray in an unsafe situation?”