Recapping the Brian Rice trial | WYPR

Recapping the Brian Rice trial

Nov 17, 2017

Lt. Brian Rice
Credit DOMINIQUE MARIA BONESSI

The Baltimore City Police Department trial board found Lieutenant Brian Rice not guilty on all charges on Friday. The trial began on November 14. Rice was the commanding officer on duty in the Western District on April 12, 2015, the day Freddie Gray was taken into police custody. 

WYPR reporter Dominique Maria Bonessi reported on the trial.

The charges

Rice faced a total of 10 charges, including:

  • Policy C-2 - a general conduct policy for officers.
  • Policy 710 - to maintain all officers and witness at the crime scene.
  • Policy 1114 - gives requirements on seat-belting detainees and providing medical assistance when needed. 

The defense argued that Policy 1114 was only known about after April 12, even though it was emailed to Rice and other officers on April 9. At the time there was no policy on regularly checking emails. 

DAY #1: Echoes from Goodson trial

The prosecution: Lawyer Neil Duke began his opening remarks by writing on a whiteboard 

WITH RANK COMES RESPONSIBILITY

Duke went on to list Rice's purported failures:

  • Failure to seatbelt Gray in the wagon
  • Failure to seek medical assistance for Gray when informed by other officers that Gray was acting lethargic
  • Failure to maintain all witnesses and officers at the crime scene at Western District where Gray was found unconscious in the back of the wagon 
  • Failure to distribute new policy to subordinate officers

The defense: Lawyer Michael Davey painted Rice as a hardworking veteran officer and father of three. Then Davey—much like Goodson’s lawyer in the last trial board—said that the department failed to provide adequate policy, procedure, equipment, and training to its officers.  

Familiar testimony 

Detective Thomas Curtis from Montgomery County Police did the independent administrative investigation. In Caesar Goodson's trial, it was alleged that Curtis’s investigation failed to corroborate evidence and interview key officers and witnesses. When Rice told Curtis during an interrogation that he couldn’t remember if he opened his email with the new policy about seatbelt procedure and restraints, Curtis said he never followed up the BPD’s IT department to see if Rice had opened the email. Davey added that Curtis—although he attended all of the criminal trials—did not use any of the defense’s exculpatory evidence in his investigation and it was not handed over to Rice’s lawyer for this trial board. 

Day #2: Tensions Run High

The prosecution: Lawyer Neil Duke introduced Captain William Parker-Loan as a witness. Parker-Loan is from the internal affairs investigation unit for the Montgomery County Police. He was the supervisor in the internal investigation that was conducted by Detective Sergeant Thomas Curtis. Duke wanted to bring Parker-Loan onto the stand to testify how Rice broke from department policy. During the last trial board of Officer Caesar Goodson, Parker-Loan was not brought in.

The defense: Lawyer Michael Davey said Parker-Loan was not the only decision maker when it came to charging Rice and the other officers. The Internal Investigation Review Panel from Montgomery County voted on what the charges would be for each of the officers. Davey also pointed out that Park-Loan sustained charges against Rice at Stop one which the Internal Panel then did not sustain.

In the end, the panel allowed him to testify under strict understanding that Parker-Loan did not have knowledge of BDP’s policies and procedures. 

Questioning expertise 

Davey started his cross-examination of Parker-Loan by asking him several questions related to his experience. Parker-Loan testified that he had never served in the Baltimore Police Department, had never read the BPD's policies and procedures, and had never reviewed any other information other than the investigation Curtis, his colleague, had conducted.

Davey also pointed out that in Parker-Loan’s findings report he noted that certain policies were not distributed to officers by the BPD prior to the incident, yet Rice still faced charges that he violated those policies.

Major Melvin Powell from Prince George’s County Police and head of the trial board panel said that there were civilian witnesses like Brandon Ross, a friend of Gray's that took video of his arrest, that were never interviewed by Parker-Loan or Curtis. Powell asked Parker-Loan why it seems like shortcuts were taken on this investigation, and Parker-Loan responded that they had to begin their investigations once criminal proceedings were over for the officers. 

Day #3: Resting the case
Much of the case revolves around Gray not being seat-belted in the van where he suffered the spinal injuries that led to his death.

Two of the three defense witnesses took the stand in Officer Caesar Goodson’s trial board. Sergeant Derrick Loeffler and Lieutenant Robert Quick are members of the Baltimore Police Department. Both of them were involved in writing and distributing policies that required officers to seat belt prisoners in the back of police vans. 

Loeffler said that policy went into effect just days before Gray’s arrest, and that because of an internal administrative failure the change wasn’t distributed efficiently and in a timely manner to all officers, including commanding officers. And that would include the officers in the Gray case as well.

The defense 

Rice’s lawyer, asked whether the policy gave the shift commander discretion to seatbelt. Quick said it did. Davey wanted to show that Rice was using his discretion in not seat-belting Gray.

The last witness was a new face, Captain Charles Russell, an expert in accident reconstruction.

He said it was reasonable for Rice to place Freddie Gray on the floor on the police van at stop two. The van made six stops between the time Gray was arrested and it arrived at the Western District station. 

Russell said the floor would be the safest place to be in a wagon like that one without seat-belting.

Day #4: The Decision

A Baltimore city police trial board acquitted Lieutenant Brian Rice of all administrative charges in the Freddie Gray case. The board delivered its verdict this morning. Rice was the commanding officer on-duty the day of the incident that led to Gray’s death in April of 2015. 

Major Melvin Powell of Prince George’s county began ticking off the 10 charges--failure to seat-belt Gray in the back of the van, failure to seek medical assistance when it was requested, failure to monitor radio communications—and after each one intoned, “Not Guilty.”

Rice, shoulders slumped, breathed a sigh of relief. He gets to keep his job in the forensics unit that he's been suspended from. 

Michael Davey, Rice’s lawyer, said his police powers are being reinstated immediately.

“He’s taking a week off and he will be back to his former assignment at headquarters,” Davey said. 

This is the second trial board to acquit an officer involved in the incident that led to Gray’s death of administrative charges. Earlier this month Officer Caesar Goodson, the wagon driver, was found not guilty on 21 administrative charges. Davey attributed that to the evidence.

“Honestly, look at the evidence, these cases aren’t changing." Davey said. "What happened on that day happened. The evidence is what it is.”

Prosecution lawyer, Neil Duke, referred requests for comment to the city solicitor.

Rice is one of six officers who was cleared of criminal charges in the case and one of five charged administratively. Two of those officers, Edward Nero and Garrett Miller, have accepted minor discipline and are back at work.

Sergeant Alicia White, the second-in-command that day, is to go before a trial board in December.