Public disciplinary trials scheduled for five Baltimore police officers in Freddie Gray case

Five officers facing internal discipline by the Baltimore Police Department in connection with the arrest and death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in 2015 will have public departmental trials this fall and winter, according to the online trial board schedule and a police union attorney.

Three of them face termination — the most severe punishment now possible locally after city prosecutors failed to secure a single criminal conviction in the case. Officials have not announced findings in a separate federal investigation into Gray's death.

The administrative trial of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the driver of the police van in which prosecutors said Gray suffered his fatal neck injuries, is scheduled for Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.

Lt. Brian Rice’s trial is Nov. 13-17; Sgt. Alicia White’s is Dec. 5-11; Officer Garrett Miller’s is Dec. 18-19; and Officer Edward Nero’s is Dec. 20-21. The officers will attend their hearings.

The department’s online schedule lists the trials, but not the officers’ names. Michael Davey, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, confirmed the schedule. He otherwise declined to comment.

The specifics of the internal charges are not clear. Davey has previously said the officers are charged with “violations of policy and procedure,” but declined to elaborate.

By law, officers who are charged with internal infractions can accept recommended punishments or contest the charges before a trial board. All five chose trial boards.

The panels, which consist of three police officers, can acquit the officers or uphold the charges. If the charges are upheld, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis would determine the officers’ punishments.

A new state law made trial boards open to the public, but their outcomes remain secret. The trials will be held at City Hall, according to the online schedule.

Davis said Monday that a review of the officers’ actions by two outside police agencies found the officers had committed “several violations” of departmental policies. The discipline trials will provide them “the opportunity to address those findings,” he said.

He otherwise declined to comment. It was not clear who in the department would be leading the proceedings.

William H. “Billy” Murphy, the Gray family attorney, declined to comment.

Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, said she is glad the officers are facing discipline.

“The bottom line, like I’ve always said, is that Freddie is dead, and at the hands of the Police Department,” she said. “Someone should be held accountable, and if they couldn’t be held accountable in the court system, they should be held accountable internally.”

In Baltimore and across the country, Hill-Aston said, “we have to let the community see that when police do bad things and do not perform their jobs well, that there are some repercussions.”

The Baltimore Sun first reported in May that the five officers faced internal charges — and that Goodson, Rice and White face firing — after investigators from the Montgomery and Howard County police departments finished their review of the case. Nero and Miller, who made the initial arrest of Gray, face five days suspension without pay.

The Baltimore Police Department had asked the county police departments to conduct the internal investigation to avoid a conflict of interest.

Gray’s death in April 2015 sparked widespread protests in Baltimore, and rioting, looting and arson broke out on the day of his funeral. Millions of dollars in damage occurred in the city, which was put under a weeklong nightly curfew amid the unrest.

The five officers and a sixth were charged criminally in the case, with offenses ranging from misconduct to manslaughter and second-degree murder. All pleaded not guilty and none was convicted. Goodson, Rice and Nero were each acquitted in bench trials. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby dropped the charges against White, Miller and the sixth officer, William Porter.

Porter had previously gone to trial, which ended with a hung jury and a mistrial.

Porter is not facing any internal discipline based on the findings of the investigation by the two county police agencies.

The police union previously denounced the department’s decision to bring internal charges against the officers and hold trial boards, saying the internal cases will “do nothing more than perpetuate a police force hesitant to exercise judgment when interacting with the public.”

The scheduled duration of the officers’ upcoming trials is unusual. Most trial board proceedings do not last more than one day. However, the cases against the officers charged in Gray’s arrest and death involve huge amounts of evidence, in part because they were tried in criminal court first.

Police reform advocates in the city have long pushed to put civilians on trial boards, but the local police union has rejected that idea and state law prohibits the city from putting civilians on the boards without the union’s consent.

City officials, including Davis and Mayor Catherine Pugh, have said they are pushing for the placement of civilians on the boards as part of the their ongoing contract negotiations with the union.

The officers’ administrative trials follow an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department by the U.S. Department of Justice, launched after Gray’s death and the subsequent unrest. The federal investigation concluded there has been widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory policing within the department. The city is now under a consent decree with the Justice Department mandating sweeping reforms.

On the day of Gray’s funeral and the start of the rioting in Baltimore in April 2015, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a federal investigation by the Justice Department and the FBI into Gray’s death to determine whether his federal civil rights had been violated. The Justice Department on Monday declined to provide an update on the status of that investigation.

krector@baltsun.com

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