When the verdict of “not guilty” came, Baltimore Police Lt. Brian Rice shook hands with his attorney, hugged his parents and drove a mile to police headquarters to get his job back.
The lieutenant was reinstated Friday, shortly after his acquittal on administrative charges that he had neglected police procedures during the arrest of Freddie Gray. The verdict absolves Rice once and for all.
“He simply wants to go home, hug his kids, kiss his wife, have a good holiday and really, honestly, try to get on with his life,” said his attorney, Michael Davey.
The ruling by a three-member panel of police officers comes more than two years after Gray was severely injured in the back of a police van. Rice supervised Gray’s arrest and was cleared last year of criminal charges including manslaughter.
Rice, 44, showed no emotion as the chairman of the panel read the verdicts.
“Not guilty … not guilty … not guilty,” repeated Maj. Melvin Powell of the Prince George’s County Police Department.
Rice left immediately, without speaking publicly, from the University of Baltimore hall that served as his courtroom for four days. He plans to take one week off, then return to work, Davey said.
Rice had been accused of breaking police protocol during Gray’s arrest. He had faced administrative charges including failing to secure Gray with a seat belt in the police van and neglecting critical radio broadcasts.
His acquittal comes one week after the van’s driver, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., was found not guilty of 21 administrative charges.
Baltimore police brought administrative charges against five of the six officers who were involved in Gray’s arrest and transport in April 2015. Two officers, Edward Nero and Garrett Miller, accepted minor discipline and are back to work. Goodson, Rice and Sgt. Alicia White chose to fight their charges before a police trial board.
White’s trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 5.
“These cases aren’t changing,” Davey said. “The evidence was the same in Officer Goodson’s case. It’s the same in Lieutenant Rice’s case. It’s going to be the same in Sergeant White’s case.”
Davey urged city officials to think twice about their case against White. “I would hope they take a look at what they have and reconsider moving forward,” he said.
Baltimore Solicitor Andre Davis said the city will not drop its case against White.
“We have to see the process through,” he said. “It may appear to be unwarranted or ill-advised, but we believe that the process is important. People need to see that the Police Department really is committed to the process.”
Rice, a 20-year veteran of the force, maintained his innocence. He was the highest-ranking officer on duty when Gray was arrested on April 12, 2015. He placed the 25-year-old in the back of the police van handcuffed and shackled but not secured with a seat belt, 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.
The police trial board was tasked with deciding whether Rice acted with reason or neglect. Did he fail to read an email with the new seat-belt policy requiring all detainees be secured? 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?
Duke presented those questions to the panel during the four-day trial. He urged the trial board to hold Rice accountable, calling him the “quarterback” on the Sunday morning of Gray’s arrest.
The Baltimore Police Department turned to the Montgomery County Police Department to independently investigate the actions of those who arrested Gray. The investigation led to the administrative charges.
Davey, the defense attorney, argued that the investigation was superficial, saying only nine witnesses were interviewed in nine months. During trial, he sharply questioned Montgomery County Police Capt. Willie Parker-Loan, who conceded to facts that undermined his own conclusions.
A conviction on any of the charges would have sent Rice before Police Commissioner Kevin Davis for punishment, which could have included termination.
Davey sought to shift the blame from the officers to the Police Department, saying policies and equipment failed those who arrested Gray and were prosecuted after his death. He argued that the department failed to properly notify officers of a new policy requiring detainees be seat-belted in vans. The vans themselves, he argued, were dangerous.
“The Baltimore Police Department had some very inefficient policies and procedures in place,” he said. “And they clearly had some inherently dangerous equipment.”
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis declined to comment on the verdict Friday.
The administrative trials came more than a year after the officers were either acquitted of criminal charges in Gray’s death or had their charges dropped by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.
Gray’s death was a tragedy, Davey said, but not a crime. “No officers intended for Mr. Gray to be injured and pass away,” he said. “It’s a terrible tragedy and, honestly, that’s all it is.”