Baltimore Police Lt. Brian Rice either neglected protocol while supervising the arrest of Freddie Gray or made reasonable decisions at a chaotic scene.
The question of whether Rice acted with reason or neglect was left Thursday to members of a police trial board. The panel’s members began deliberations after a four-day administrative trial for Rice, the highest-ranking officer to face administrative charges in Gray’s death.
In closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors sought to blame Rice for a series of alleged infractions surrounding Gray’s arrest and the injuries the 25-year-old suffered in the back of a police van more than two years ago.
The charges range from failing to check on Gray to ignoring new policies requiring that detainees be secured in seat belts. Rice, 44, was absolved of criminal conduct during a trial last year.
“We’re not here to prosecute high crimes,” said Neil Duke, the attorney prosecuting the case for the city. “We’re here to determine whether or not he followed protocol.”
Rice placed Gray in the back of the police van handcuffed and shackled but not seat-belted, prosecutors said. After the van ride, Gray was found unconscious with broken vertebrae in his neck. He fell into a coma and died one week later.
As the shift supervisor in the Western District that Sunday morning, Rice was responsible for the arrest of Gray, the prosecutor said.
“He’s the quarterback,” Duke said. “Everything has to go through him.”
Gray’s death led to protests and riots across the city. More than two years later, the officers who arrested Gray have been cleared of criminal charges and five of them were brought to trial on administrative charges.
Did Rice fail to read an email with the seat-belt policy? Did he neglect to listen closely to his police radio? Did he fail to treat the van as a crime scene after Gray was hurt?
All were questions presented to the board during Rice’s trial.
“It’s up to you to ensure the responsibilities of this officer were met,” Duke urged the board.
Baltimore police turned to Montgomery County officers to independently investigate the actions of the six who arrested Gray. The investigation led to administrative charges against Rice and four of his fellow officers.
Defense attorney Michael Davey argued that the investigation was handled poorly, saying the Montgomery County officers who investigated the six officers interviewed only nine witnesses in nine months.
Still, Duke’s task was to prove Rice’s guilt by a preponderance of evidence, a lower standard than guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as required in criminal court.
“The evidence in this case didn’t even come close,” Davey said. “What did he [Duke] give you to prove that Lieutenant Rice’s actions on that day were not reasonable? Know what? You’re not going to find it.”
On the second day of the trial, Davey and the three-member panel of police officers sharply questioned the investigator, Montgomery County Police Capt. Willie Parker-Loan, who conceded to facts that undermined his own conclusions. The board is chaired by Prince George’s County Police Maj. Melvin Powell and includes two Baltimore officers, Capt. Charles Thompson and Lt. Bryant Moore.
An acquittal would absolve Rice for good. A conviction, however, would bring him before Police Commissioner Kevin Davis for punishment. Davis could fire Rice.
“When we evaluate neglect we have to evaluate the reasonableness of decisions by Lieutenant Rice,” said Davey, the defense attorney.
The board adjourned Thursday afternoon to deliberate. The members gave no indication when they would return a verdict.
Rice faces about 10 administrative charges. His trial began Monday, one week after the van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., was acquitted of 21 administrative charges.
The administrative trials came more than a year after officers were acquitted of criminal charges in Gray’s death. State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby had charged the six officers who arrested Gray. But Rice, Goodson and Edward Nero were acquitted before she dropped the charges against the remaining three officers.
The Baltimore Police Department then filed administrative charges against five of the officers: Rice, Goodson, Nero and Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White.
Nero and Miller chose not to fight the charges and accepted minor discipline. Both are back to work with the Baltimore police.
White’s administrative trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 5.