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Judge drops charges, fellow officers take stand in Rice trial

A Baltimore judge dismissed a misdemeanor count against one of the officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray Monday after the state rested but the lead charge of manslaughter remained as the defense case began.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case against Lt. Brian Rice after testimony from two fellow officers and Baltimore City Circuit Judge Barry Williams partially granted a motion for judgment of acquittal, finding the state did not make a case for its assault charge.

5.23.16 BALTIMORE, MD-From left, attorneys Marc L. Zayon and Allison Levine escort their client Officer Edward Nero out of the Baltimore City Sheriff’s office at the Circuit Courthouse after Judge Barry Williams acquits Officer Nero of all charges stemming from the death of Freddie Gray. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Officer Edward Nero, seen here during his May 23 court appearance, testified Monday in Lt. Brian Rice’s trial that he was present at the scene of Freddie Gray’s arrest and when he was taken in and out of a police transport wagon. Nero said at times Gray helped officers move and position him but sometimes he was “flailing” and uncooperative, which drew a crowd of bystanders which grew increasingly hostile. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

The charge was based on the allegation that Rice acted in concert with others to cause the police van to come in harmful contact with Gray, who sustained a severe spinal cord injury in the back of the van April 12, 2015. Monday marked the first time Williams has acquitted any of the officers of a charge at the conclusion of the state’s case.

Prior to the start of Rice’s trial last week, prosecutors also dropped one of the misconduct in office charges against Rice which stemmed from their allegations Rice was involved in an illegal arrest of Gray.

The remaining charges against Rice, the most senior officer charged in connection with Gray’s death, are manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

 

Defense points

Defense attorneys continued the trend Monday of scoring key points off of state witnesses when co-defendant officers are called to testify against each other.

Attorneys for Rice used cross-examination to elicit testimony that Gray was combative around the time Rice was interacting with him and could use his legs and speak after the point when prosecutors say he sustained a serious spinal cord injury.

The state called Officer Edward Nero, who was acquitted by Williams in May, to testify, marking the first time Nero has testified about the incident. He exercised his right to remain silent at his trial and was acquitted.

Nero was present at the scene of Gray’s arrest and when he was taken in and out of a police transport wagon. Nero said at times Gray helped officers move and position him but sometimes he was “flailing” and uncooperative, which drew a crowd of bystanders which grew increasingly hostile.

Rice arrived when the crowd was at its peak and determined Gray should be taken directly to Central Booking and Intake because of the difficulties officers were having with him, according to Nero. When the van doors were shut, Gray kicked and rocked the van, he said.

When Gray was removed from the van a few blocks away and put in leg shackles, he went limp, which has been characterized as “passive resistance,” Nero said. Rice grabbed his shoulders and pulled him into the van with the assistance of Nero and Officer Garrett Miller.

Seat belt rule change

Gray’s alleged combativeness at these early stops has been an issue in each trial because, prior to a rule change just days before Gray’s arrest, Baltimore Police Department policy required detainees be secured with a seat belt unless doing so endangered the officer.

Williams has wrestled with questions about which officer present at each stop had custody of Gray and what they could have observed that would be relevant to the decision to use a seat belt or not. At Nero and Goodson’s trials, Williams found it was reasonable for them to have relied on other officers to make the determination and prosecutors failed to show a duty for each defendant.

Officer William Porter, scheduled for a retrial in September, also testified Monday, primarily about his interactions with Gray after the van left the scene of the arrest. Porter spoke with Gray when Goodson, the van’s driver, asked for assistance checking on Gray, helped Gray from the floor of the van to a seated position on a bench and saw him later kneeling on the floor of the van.

The defense asked Porter about Gray’s appearance and ability to breathe and speak at these later stops, presumably because prosecutors claim Gray was already injured.