The latest Freddie Gray trial is close to a decision

The latest of the Freddie Gray trials in Baltimore, that of Lieutenant Brian Rice, took barely a week from opening remarks to closing statements. (And it happened entirely while I was on vacation.) They wrapped things up on Thursday in a bench trial before Judge Barry Williams, who is scheduled to deliver his decision tomorrow morning. As I observed before this one even began, Marilyn Mosby’s prosecution team seemed to be facing tough sledding. The judge was wary of several maneuvers they attempted, including dumping thousands of pages of Rice’s training records into evidence mere days before the proceedings began. (That submission was rejected by the judge.) During the actual presentation of the prosecution’s case, things didn’t seem to go much better.

As the Baltimore Sun reports, the judge was open to hearing interpretations of the events surrounding Gray’s arrest from both sides, but it sounds like the prosecution’s version of the story was coming across as a bit of a stretch.

Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe used city surveillance footage to show there was not a particularly large crowd at the scene, and said the people who were there — including Brandon Ross, Gray’s friend — were not threatening the officers but “begging” them to treat Gray better. She said Rice was simply uncaring, and that Gray is dead because of it.

Michael Belsky, Rice’s attorney, cited other evidence, including testimony from Rice’s fellow officers, to suggest a more volatile scene. Twice, he quoted directly from a video Ross shot in which a bystander can be heard yelling, “Pop this dumb— m—f—. I’ll bust them.”

“These aren’t cavalier, light-hearted words when you are a police officer trying to restore order,” Belsky said.

That short snippet from the testimony seems to characterize the tone of most of the trial. The challenge for the prosecution is to put the judge inside the head of Lieutenant Rice during the initial arrest of Freddie Gray and the subsequent stops on the trip which ensued. They aren’t even claiming that Rice himself inflicted any injury on the suspect, but rather that he should have known enough to ensure that his officers put a seat belt on Gray or intervened to provide medical assistance sooner. The defense argues that the officers were working in a hostile environment, and even if they weren’t, the failure to follow seat belt procedures can’t be construed as some sort of intentional infliction of harm or even knowingly “setting the stage” for injury.

As I noted before this trial began, this is the same judge who the city attorneys failed to convince when they claimed that the officers who directly handled Gray were charged with either intentional misconduct or gross negligence. It seems highly unlikely that he would find the supervisor guilty of the same or similar crimes. On the charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment they will need to persuade Williams that Rice was not only grossly negligent, but fully aware that his actions could have resulted in Freddie Gray’s death or serious injury. That seems a high bar to reach given the decisions which came from prior trials.

If Marilyn Mosby strikes out on this one tomorrow, will she continue with the remaining trials? This has turned into a grim comedy of errors for the City of Baltimore, and at this point there is no reason to place any further faith in Mosby’s leadership.


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David Strom 6:01 PM on March 29, 2023