A Judge on Monday acquitted police Lt. Brian Rice of manslaughter and all other charges in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, another defeat for prosecutors who have yet to secure a conviction after trying four of the six officers charged in the case.
Circuit Judge Barry Williams also found Lt. Rice not guilty of reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. The judge earlier dismissed an assault charge, and prosecutors dropped a second misconduct count. Lt. Rice elected to have the judge decide the case rather than a jury.
Lt. Rice, 42 years old, is the highest ranking of the six officers charged in the case. A medical examiner found Mr. Gray died of a severe spinal cord injury he sustained in a police van after his arrest for allegedly possessing an illegal knife.
Prosecutors’ case against Lt. Rice centered on his decision to place Mr. Gray, handcuffed and leg-shackled, face down on the van floor early in his roughly 40-minute van ride. Prosecutors said the lieutenant was criminally negligent in failing to secure Mr. Gray with a seat belt, as department policy required, and said he had no valid reason to deviate.
But Lt. Rice’s attorneys said his actions were reasonable because of safety concerns related to Mr. Gray’s resistance after his arrest and the presence of an angry crowd outside the West Baltimore public housing complex where the arrest occurred.
In acquitting Lt. Rice of manslaughter, the most serious count, Judge Williams said prosecutors didn’t prove the lieutenant knew he created a substantial risk of death or serious injury by failing to place Mr. Gray in a seat belt—let alone that the officer consciously disregarded such risk. In addition the judge said prosecutors didn’t prove Lt. Rice’s actions caused Mr. Gray’s death.
Judge Williams said several times while issuing his ruling from the bench that prosecutors didn’t establish that Lt. Rice’s actions weren’t mistakes or the result of bad judgment—and the judge said they didn’t show that his actions rose to the level of criminal negligence.
Before Monday’s ruling, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby faced criticism that she overreached on the charges, and a police union called on her to drop all charges. Some civil-rights activists and African-American clergy members have remained supportive, saying she deserved credit for taking the fairly rare step of charging the officers.
The next officer scheduled to stand trial is Officer Garrett Miller, who faces misdemeanor charges tied to allegations he illegally arrested Mr. Gray after he ran from police in an area known for drug dealing. Officer Miller’s trial is set to start July 27. After Officer Porter’s retrial, an October trial is planned for Sgt. Alicia White, whose charges include manslaughter.
Last September the city of Baltimore agreed to a $6.4 million civil settlement with Mr. Gray’s family.