Charge Dropped at Start of Trial for Baltimore Cop

     BALTIMORE (CN) — Prosecutors dropped a charge of misconduct in office to start the first day of trial for Lt. Brian Rice, the highest-ranking officer involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.
     The charge was related to the initial arrest of Gray, who ran from police unprovoked and was allegedly found to be carrying an illegal knife, before he was loaded into a police van handcuffed, shackled and without a seatbelt.
     Gray, 25, died from a spinal cord injury he sustained while in police custody. His death spurred a day of rioting, looting and arson in Baltimore, a majority black city of 620,000 people.
     Opening arguments focused on Rice’s involvement in the incident as a bike patrol officer on April 12, 2015. Rice reportedly called for the foot chase of Gray and a friend, who ran when police saw the two men.
     Rice is the fourth of six officers charged in Gray’s death to go on trial. Two officers, Edward Nero and van driver Caesar Goodson Jr., were both acquitted in earlier trials.
     Officer William Porter’s trial last December ended in a hung jury. He is scheduled for a retrial in September.
     Like Nero and Goodson, Rice has opted for a bench trial, leaving his fate up to Judge Barry Williams. Rice faces charges of manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment.
     Rice’s defense team, including attorney Chaz Ball, used opening arguments to say that Rice’s “nine-second assessment” of Gray, as well as the crowd that gathered as police made the arrest near Gilmore Homes in Western Baltimore, was what any “reasonable officer” would have made given the circumstances.
     Ball said Gray was “banging and belligerent, kicking and combative,” at the time Rice placed him in the van at the first of six stops made between his arrest and the Western District Police Station, where Gray was found unresponsive.
     The defense attorney said Rice’s concern about crowd control, Gray’s combativeness and the confined space of the van all lead to the decision not use a seatbelt during Gray’s transportation.
     Ball also said Gray was not presenting any outward signs of injury during the time Rice was involved with Gray. He said Rice’s actions were “absolutely 100 percent reasonable” given the circumstances, and that Gray’s death was “a tragic, freak accident that no one could have foreseen.”
     The state began their case by calling Assistant State Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan, Capt. Martin Bartness and Baltimore City Police Director of Information Technology Andrew Jaffee to set the stage for the trial, which is expected to last five or six days.
     During a pretrial motions hearing on Tuesday, Williams dealt a blow to the state when he ruled the prosecution violated discovery rules by failing to hand over documents related to Rice’s training. The 4,000 pages of documents could have helped show Rice was trained on the seatbelt protocols set by the police department.

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