The administrative trial of Baltimore Police Lt. Brian Rice in the arrest of Freddie Gray appeared to falter Tuesday, as Rice’s attorney and trial board members sharply questioned the Montgomery County internal affairs chief upon whose findings the charges were based.
At times during his testimony, Capt. Willie Parker-Loan struggled to convey his rationale for findings that led to some of the charges against Rice. In some instances, he conceded to facts that undercut other findings.
Parker-Loan’s testimony, which took up the second half of the second day of Rice’s trial at the University of Baltimore, followed testimony from four officers who were serving under Rice in the Western District on the day of Gray’s arrest — all of whom cast the lieutenant’s actions that day as reasonable.
The case against Rice appeared to deflate at the conclusion of the day, with the three law enforcement officials presiding over the trial barely concealing their skepticism over the charges against Rice.
“He sustained them. We just want to know why,” Prince George’s County Maj. Melvin Powell, the panel’s chair, said at one point during Parker-Loan’s cross-examination by the defense. “If he can’t answer the question, we can move on.”
Rice helped load Gray into the police van where Gray was later found unconscious, not breathing and with severe neck injuries in April 2015. Gray, who was handcuffed and shackled but not secured in a seat belt in the van, died a week later.
Rice has maintained his innocence. He was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and other charges at a separate criminal trial last year.
Rice is now charged administratively with failing to ensure Gray’s safety by not securing him with a seat belt, and with failing to fulfill his supervisory duties, including by not securing evidence and witnesses. He is also accused of failing to monitor his department radio and of failing to “take corrective action” when an order he gave to the van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., allegedly wasn’t followed.
Parker-Loan testified that those charges were based on his findings, which were in turn based on an investigation conducted by a detective in his unit and another investigator from Howard County. Parker-Loan’s findings then were put before a separate Montgomery County charging committee, acting on behalf of Baltimore, which decided to sustain some of the charges Parker-Loan recommended but dismiss others.
If convicted of any of the charges, Rice can be fired by Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, or be given a lesser punishment.
If the panel clears Rice, the decision cannot be challenged.
Neil Duke, prosecuting the case for the city, introduced Parker-Loan’s report as evidence, but was largely prevented from eliciting additional testimony from Parker-Loan because the panel agreed with Rice’s attorney, Mike Davey, that Parker-Loan was not an accepted expert on Baltimore police policies.
Then came the cross-examination.
Parker-Loan acknowledged that the county investigation determined that Rice was completely unaware of a then-new Baltimore police policy requiring the seat-belting of detainees. He then agreed with Davey that, even under that policy, Rice had discretion as the shift commander in the Western District that day not to secure Gray in a seat belt.
When it came to the charge that Rice did not “take corrective action” after Goodson’s failure to take Gray to Central Booking, as Rice had initially ordered, Davey noted that Goodson had actually followed a subsequent order from Rice that he return the wagon to North Avenue to pick up another arrestee. Afterward, Parker-Loan appeared unable to answer Davey’s questions about the charge, or reconcile the charge with the facts.
Powell, the panel chair, questioned the thoroughness of the Montgomery County investigation. Baltimore Police Capt. Charles Thompson, another panel member, suggested that some of Parker-Loan’s testimony was “contradictory.”
And after Parker-Loan testified that the county investigation had “focused” only on the six officers who had previously been charged criminally in the case, the other trial board member, Baltimore Police Lt. Bryant Moore, questioned whether he had a “full picture” of the events.
Earlier in the day, Officers Edward Nero, Garrett Miller, Zach Novak and William Porter all testified that Gray was being combative but not showing signs of injury, and that they considered a crowd of West Baltimore residents at the arrest scene a threat to officers.
They said Rice's decision to place Gray in the back of a police van without a seat belt was reasonable based on officer safety concerns. They said they had never or very rarely seen an arrestee placed in a seat belt before. And they said Rice fulfilled his obligations as the acting Western District commander that day when it became clear Gray was experiencing a medical emergency.
“Lieutenant Rice kicked into lieutenant mode and started making all the notifications” to top commanders and internal investigators of such incidents, Miller said.
Nero and Miller were also charged criminally, along with three other officers. Nero was acquitted, as were Rice and Goodson. Miller, Porter and Sgt. Alicia White had the charges against them dropped. All of those officers except Porter were subsequently charged administratively.
Miller and Nero accepted minor administrative punishments. Goodson was acquitted of 21 administrative charges last week. White goes to trial next month.