Freddie Gray case: Administrative trial begins for Baltimore Police Lt. Brian Rice

The administrative trial of Lt. Brian Rice on 10 charges he violated police policies during and after the 2015 arrest of Freddie Gray began Monday with attorney Neil Duke writing “WITH RANK COMES RESPONSIBILITY” in large letters on a white board.

Duke, who is prosecuting the case for Baltimore, then accused Rice of not only failing to ensure Gray’s safety and secure evidence in his death, but of inhibiting the investigation by telling other officers not to cooperate.

“He’d do all the talking,” Duke said Rice told his team.

Rice was the highest-ranking officer working in the Western District on the day of Gray’s arrest, which he ordered, oversaw and participated in. He placed Gray in handcuffs and leg shackles but unsecured by a seat belt in the back of the van. The van was driven to multiple stops before Gray was ultimately found in the back unconscious and not breathing, with severe spinal cord injuries. He died in the hospital a week later.

Rice, who was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and other charges at a criminal trial last year, is now charged administratively with failing to ensure Gray’s safety and with failing in his duties as a supervisor.

He is being tried before a three-member panel of law enforcement officers at the University of Baltimore. The panel is chaired by Prince George’s County Police Maj. Melvin Powell and also includes Baltimore Police Capt. Charles Thompson and Baltimore Police Lt. Bryant Moore. Powell declined to comment Monday, and Thompson and Moore could not be reached for comment.

If the panel finds Rice guilty of any of the 10 charges or the nearly 30 stipulated violations they involve, it will recommend a punishment to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. Davis could accept the recommended punishment or choose one of his own, up to and including firing Rice.

If the panel finds Rice not guilty of the alleged violations, the decision is final.

Rice, 44, is a 20-year veteran of the police force currently assigned to the forensic services division.

In addition to not ensuring Gray’s safety in the van, Duke said Rice failed in his supervisory duties to maintain the integrity of witnesses and the scene where Gray was injured — namely the van — once he became aware of those injuries.

Duke said Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the van driver, was able to leave the police station in the van after Gray was found not breathing in the back, despite the van being a crime scene.

He said it was around that time that Rice “huddles up” with other officers involved in Gray’s arrest to discuss “what might have happened,” and tells them he’d prefer if they didn’t speak to investigators, and that he would “do all the talking.”

Mike Davey, Rice’s attorney, described his client in his opening statement as an “extremely dedicated” officer who acted reasonably at every stage of Gray’s arrest, and said the Police Department should “look in the mirror” to find fault.

Davey said the department failed to adequately train and equip officers, who faced dangers when trying to secure detainees in seat belts in the vans available for transport. Rice has maintained his innocence in the case, stating that Gray was combative and that a crowd near the arrest site at Gilmor Homes in Sandtown-Winchester prompted him to decide to have the van leave as quickly as possible with Gray laying on the floor of it.

Davey said no one thought the van in which Gray was injured was a crime scene that had to be preserved on the day Gray was injured, in part because they thought he overdosed. Davey said the van remained in service until April 20, eight days after Gray was injured and one day after he died.

“No one thought it was a crime scene, or that would not have occurred,” Davey said.

Davey said the “huddle” Rice had with the officers that day was to remind them they have the right under state law not to speak with investigators, a discussion Davey — who is an attorney for the police union — said he would expect any supervisor to have with officers under such circumstances.

Five of the six officers criminally charged in the case, including Rice, did speak with investigators. Several other officers who were not charged also provided statements.

Davey noted that Goodson told investigators it was another supervisor, Sgt. Alicia White, who had given him permission to leave the district station in the van, allegedly to take Gray’s personal belongings to him at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Davey displayed mug shots of the six officers who were initially charged criminally in the case, and said it was “unfair” their images had gone all around the world.

He then put up an image of the Baltimore police seal.

“This is the photo that should pop up anytime the name Freddie Gray is Googled,” he said, “because that’s who is responsible.”

The city previously reached a $6.4 million civil settlement with Gray’s family.

After opening statements, Duke called Det. Sgt. Thomas Curtis of the Montgomery County Police Department to the stand. Curtis was the lead investigator who conducted a review of the actions of six Baltimore police officers in Gray’s arrest, as they related to police policies. That review occurred after Rice, Goodson and Officer Edward Nero were all acquitted at criminal trials, and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby dropped criminal charges against three other officers.

Officials had requested the outside agency lead the review to avoid an appearance of bias.

Based on Curtis’ findings, a charging committee filed administrative charges against five officers.

Since that time, two officers — Nero and Officer Garrett Miller — have accepted minor punishment and returned to work. A trial board acquitted Goodson of all 21 administrative charges against him last week. Rice is the second officer to stand trial before an administrative trial board.

As he was during Goodson’s administrative trial, Curtis was subjected to a withering cross-examination Monday during Rice’s trial.

He repeatedly acknowledged not interviewing key witnesses who would have had firsthand knowledge of issues relevant to the charges against Rice, and of not turning over exculpatory evidence from the criminal trials to the charging committee.

Curtis also said that the Baltimore Police Department had failed its officers by not properly notifying them of a policy change days before Gray’s arrest that required them to secure detainees in seat belts.

Curtis also acknowledged that, even under the new policy, shift commanders — such as Rice on the day of Gray’s arrest — still had such discretion.

The day’s proceedings concluded Monday afternoon after Davey was finished cross-examining Curtis. The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday, with Curtis back on the stand for follow-up questions from Duke.

krector@baltsun.com

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