The trial of the highest-ranking officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray begins Tuesday, in a case that is likely to bring renewed scrutiny to the Baltimore police department, even if it doesn’t yield a conviction.
Since December, three officers have faced criminal charges over Gray’s death a week after his arrest in Baltimore. One case ended in a hung jury, and two others in acquittals, including the case of Caesar Goodson, who faced the most serious criminal charges, for driving the van in which Gray sustained a fatal spine injury while shackled without a seatbelt.
Lt Brian Rice, who faces charges for manslaughter this week, was on bike patrol with his fellow officers when he saw Gray on the morning of 12 April 2015. Police say that Gray started to run when he noticed Rice, who initiated the foot chase that led to Gray’s arrest and shackling in the van.
There is widespread speculation that the case against Rice may still be dropped or dismissed, as the increasingly embattled chief prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, comes under attack from all sides. When she announced the charges last May on the heels of violent unrest on the city, the 35-year-old prosecutor had only been in office for months but immediately drew international attention. After a failure to bring convictions, even those who once supported her are now protesting her appearances and pledging to campaign against her when she is up for re-election in 2018.
But regardless of whether Mosby secures a conviction against Rice, the case resurfaces the violent history of Rice, who allegedly had his guns confiscated twice and was placed on administrative leave at least once before Gray’s death because of allegations of violence.
Documents obtained by the Guardian last spring revealed Rice’s violent past. An ex-girlfriend took out a restraining order on Rice, alleging that he threatened to kill her when she was gathering her belongings from the house they once shared. She said he had an AK-47 assault rifle in the house.
Another man obtained a temporary restraining order against Rice in April 2012, for allegedly threatening to kill himself and the partner of another ex. Andrew McAleer, the man Rice threatened, described a “pattern of intimidation and violence” by the officer.
Carroll County sheriff’s deputies later confiscated Rice’s weapons when they responded to an emergency call about an incident which ended with Rice’s hospitalization.
Rice allegedly had his guns confiscated again and was placed on administrative suspension after further incidents with McAleer, who claimed: “I witnessed Brian Rice remove a black semiautomatic handgun from the trunk of his vehicle.” He wrote that Rice sent him “harassing and sexually explicit text messages”, asked his children to shoot guns at photographs of the McAleers, and “caused me to become distraught and fear my life was about to end”.
Throughout the previous trials, defense attorneys have painted the picture of a police department where officers regularly violate general orders. Since Rice was the ranking officer with ultimate responsibility, prosecutors are likely to use these arguments against him.
Rice’s trial begins with tensions between police and prosecutors – who usually work together closely – unusually high.
Defense attorneys for the officers have alleged that Mosby brought the charges for political purposes, in response to widespread unrest in the city. An activist judge has filed a grievance against Mosby calling for her disbarment. Rice and the other officers who are still facing charges have asked the judge to dismiss the case and have also requested transcripts of grand jury testimony after a police detective alleged that prosecutors not only tried to influence her testimony but gave her an inaccurate written statement to read to the grand jury, and then prevented her from answering questions.
The allegations came to light when Judge Barry Williams castigated prosecutors for failing to provide the defense with potentially exculpatory evidence during Goodson’s trial. .
After Goodson was acquitted, the Fraternal Order of Police called on Mosby to drop charges and tweeted a picture calling her “the wolf that lurks”.
Williams is expected to rule Tuesday on the motions to dismiss the case, and to make public records from the proceeding where the six officers were indicted.