The highest-ranking Baltimore police officer charged in the death of black detainee Freddie Gray goes on trial on Thursday with Maryland prosecutors still seeking their first conviction in the high-profile case.
Lieutenant Brian Rice, 42, is the fourth to be tried of six officers charged in Gray’s death in April 2015. Gray died from a broken neck suffered in a police transport van.
His death a week after being arrested triggered rioting in which nearly 400 buildings were damaged or destroyed in the majority black city of 620,000 people.
Gray’s death stoked a national debate that had been spurred by the deaths of unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police in cities including New York, Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri.
Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams will hear the case in a bench trial. Williams has acquitted Officers Caesar Goodson Jr. and Edward Nero, and a third officer, William Porter, faces retrial after a jury deadlocked.
Rice is charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.
Rice ordered Nero and another officer in a bicycle patrol to pursue Gray when he fled unprovoked in a high-crime area. Prosecutors allege that Rice failed to secure Gray, 25, with a seat belt when he helped put him into the van while shackled.
Prosecutors’ case against Rice was dealt a blow at a pretrial hearing on Tuesday when Williams ruled that neither they nor the defense could use 4,000 pages of documents related to Rice’s training.
The team headed by prosecutor Michael Schatzow turned over the material to the defense only last week, and Williams scolded Schatzow about the delay. Williams already had sanctioned him for failing to turn over evidence in a previous trial.
Training has been a major part of the cases against the officers. Prosecutors allege that they knowingly violated department protocol when they arrested Gray and put him in the wagon without securing him.
But defense lawyers have argued in previous cases that officers had the discretion not to use a seat belt if a detainee was combative.
Asked about the pressure prosecutors were under, Tim Maloney, a Maryland lawyer who has handled police misconduct cases, said: “It’s hard to see after the acquittals of Goodson and Nero how this is going to fare any better.”
Williams was likely to clear Rice unless a police trainer or Rice himself testified that he had been taught a different procedure for securing arrestees, he said.
(Writing by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Frances Kerry)