Most Senior Police Officer Involved in Freddie Gray's Death Found Not Guilty of Manslaughter

Illustration for article titled Most Senior Police Officer Involved in Freddie Gray's Death Found Not Guilty of Manslaughter

Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams cleared Lt. Brian Rice of all charges against him in the Freddie Gray case Monday, including the charge of involuntary manslaughter after failing to secure Freddie Gray in the back a police van, which led to severe spinal cord injuries and ultimately, Gray’s death.

Judge Williams has also heard three of the other officer’s cases of the six accused, acquitting two of those three in bench trials. The third, for Officer William Porter, was declared a mistrial in December, when jurors could not reach a verdict. Officer Porter will be retried later this year; Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White’s trials are scheduled for late July and September.

Lt. Rice was the highest ranking officer of the six involved with Freddie Gray’s death. He also chose a bench trial, putting himself in Judge Williams’ hands. Williams has been vocally critical of the charges against the officers, according to the Baltimore Sun:

In order to convict Rice of involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors had to prove that he acted in a grossly negligent manner and was aware of the risks to Gray but disregarded them. For reckless endangerment, they had to prove that Rice was aware of the risks and acted unreasonably. For misconduct, they had to prove he corruptly failed to carry out an act required of him.

Williams had seemed skeptical of the basis of the charges during closing arguments Thursday, asking Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow whether the prosecution believed that the failure to seat belt Gray was in itself a crime.

“The simple fact he didn’t do it means he’s guilty of these crimes?” Williams asked.


Lt. Rice’s acquittal likely indicates how the remaining two officers will be treated in trial. After Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver, was acquitted in June, he received $87,000 in back pay.

Image via AP.

Contributing Writer, writing my first book for the Dial Press called The Lonely Hunter, follow me on Twitter @alutkin

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Might be an unpopular opinion, but -

I wish you were a little more detailed with this article, because the judge’s decision was actually far more nuanced than what you have here and I feel like you’re doing him a disservice by not making his reasoning clear.

The judge’s whole issue here is that, around the time of the Gray encounter, the BPD changed their policy re: seatbelts. For years, standard police procedure stated that an officer had discretion about whether to secure a suspect with a seatbelt. They allowed that because of concerns about suspects trying to self-harm with the belt if they got free or injuring themselves if they were thrashing against it. Around the time of the Gray encounter, they changed the policy to make belts mandatory. The crux of the whole case depended on whether Rice was aware of that policy change at the time he placed Gray in the wagon. If he was, then he’d be negligent. If he wasn’t, he was just following what he believed was still SOP. To me, it sounds a little off that there could be officers not aware of the change, but the defense presented evidence that the policy change was not widely distributed and not all officers learned of it at the time. So, they made it sound like a departmental failure of leadership. The judge didn’t dispute that not belting Gray in was a bad call here; the question was whether it was an intentional act to harm vs. a permissible act under the SOP.

I just think it’s valuable to make this clear since the article seems to suggest the ruling wasn’t so great. I have colleagues who know this judge, who they say is excellent, very fair, very impartial and overall, quite excellent. I hate to see him get impugned because of these cases.