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Assault charge dropped against officer in Freddie Gray case

Prosecution rests case in Lt. Brian Rice trial

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(Baltimore Police Department)

 

An assault charge against Lt. Brian Rice was dismissed Monday as the prosecution rested its case during the third day of the Freddie Gray-related trial, WBAL-TV reported.

Rice is the fourth officer to go on trial in the police in-custody death of Gray.

The judge said the state failed to prove Rice acted in concert with someone else to prove an assault charge.

Rice faces manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office charges in connection with Gray's death. The 25-year-old died April 19, 2015, a week after he suffered a neck injury in a police transport van.

Rice is the officer who initiated the pursuit of Gray when he and two others were walking in west Baltimore on April 12, 2015. Gray ran off after Rice made eye contact with him.

Prosecutors have centered their case on Rice's rank, arguing that as the shift commander, he should have been aware of proper policy when dealing with the detention and safe transport of those who have been arrested, WBAL reported.

Among the witnesses to testify Friday were neurosurgery expert Dr. Morris Marc Soriano, Baltimore police detective Michael Boyd who investigated the case, and Brandon Ross, who was with Gray on the day of his arrest.

Officers William Porter and Edward Nero were at the courthouse Friday and it appeared that at least one of them was going to be called to the stand, but the judge ended testimony for the day just before 4 p.m. Court resumed at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Nero testified for 40 minutes on Monday about Gray's demeanor during his arrest and how Gilmor Homes was becoming "very hostile area" and "started to empty out" at that time.

During cross examination, Nero described an inhospitable environment during the initial arrest. He added that Gray was flailing, screaming and kicking inside the van.

"We just had to move and get out of there," said Nero, who added that the crowd was "getting uncomfortably close" to them.

At one point during Nero's testimony, there was a heated exchange between Nero and prosecutor Michael Schatzow during the state's redirect.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams gave the state some leeway in their questioning of Nero, allowing for questions the defense called leading, given his status as a former defendant in the case and since he is among five officers suing State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby over his arrest.

Porter was next to testify. He was on the stand for 30 minutes and was asked by prosecutors to recall his interaction with Gray during stops four and five. Porter testified that he asked Gray if he needed medical help, and Gray said "yes."

Porter testified that Gray's calm demeanor didn't indicate that he was injured. He also added that Rice was not present at either stops four or five.

University of Maryland Police Captain Martinez Davenport testified about seat belt audits in April and September 2014. Martinez said all districts passed inspection on whether officers were seat belting arrestees.

Baltimore paramedic Angelique Herbert, who treated Gray at the Western District, was to take the stand next.

Officer Caesar Goodson, the transport van driver, was cleared last month of all charges, including second-degree depraved heart murder. Officer Edward Nero was cleared of misdemeanor charges in May. Both Goodson and Nero opted for bench trials. The trial of Officer William Porter ended in December with a hung jury.

Legal experts believe that calling other officers charged in Gray's death to the stand is a double-edged sword for the state.

University of Baltimore law professor David Jaros said the state had to call Nero and Porter to testify to establish the chain of events surrounding Rice's actions on the day of Gray's arrest.

Still, Jaros said it continues to be an uphill battle in the prosecution's efforts to win a conviction in these cases.

"The evidence we've seen here doesn't seem much different than the cases from before...," Jaros said. "(Nero) is a double-edged sword for the prosecutor because they can bring in a lot of information such as the context of the arrest and the defense went through great effort to establish what the circumstances were at the scene suggesting that it was a chaotic scene."

Jaros continued: "The defense has an argument, and it's not a slam dunk argument, that Officer Porter's actions (at stop four) actually severs the chain of causation therefor Lt. Rice would not be the approximate cause of Mr. Gray's injuries by failing to buckle."

Defense attorney Warren Brown, a courtroom observer with no connection to the case, agrees.

"I'm not sure why (the state) put Officer Porter on the stand," Brown said. "Porter mostly talked about stops four and five and Rice's involvement with Freddie Gray was done by stop two...Officer Nero put meat on the bones for the defense that Freddie Gray was combative and the crowds were growing at stops one and two.

"The testimony of the officers either benefitted the defense or didn't prove the elements the state needed to prove (a crime occurred)."