- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2016

BALTIMORE — Defense attorneys for Baltimore Police Lt. Brian Rice reiterated Thursday that he feared for his safety when he decided not to get into a transport van and secure Freddie Gray in a seat belt because of Gray’s combative nature and an unruly crowd that had gathered at the scene of the arrest.

“[Lt. Rice] has to make an assessment right then and there. It was a dangerous situation. He wasn’t wrong. It was right, and it was reasonable,” Michael Belsky said in closing arguments, referring to a “rapidly evolving situation” as the crowd gathered.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams said he would issue a ruling in Lt. Rice’s trial at 10 a.m. Monday.

The lieutenant is the fourth and highest-ranking of six officers to face trial in the arrest and death of Gray last year. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.

In closing arguments, as well as throughout the trial, prosecutors have hammered the argument that Lt. Rice was negligent when he handcuffed and shackled Gray but did not secure him in a seat belt him in the police van.

“This was a violation of his duty to ensure [Gray’s] safety,” Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow argued Thursday.

The state has tried to make the case that because Lt. Rice was the highest-ranking officer at the scene, he should have at least instructed subordinate officers to secure Gray with a seat belt.

Prosecutors cited a 2014 email sent by the police commissioner instructing officers to use seat belts when transporting prisoners.

“Clearly, Mr. Rice was on notice that he was to seat belt a prisoner,” said prosecutor Janice Bledsoe.

But Mr. Belsky, Lt. Rice’s attorney, said the policy allows officers to use discretion if they believe their safety is at risk.

“What he did was professional,” the defense attorney said. “This was not a scene where people are happy or cooperative.”

Gray died April 19, 2015, a week after his neck was broken in the back of the van. The death and funeral of the 25-year-old black man touched off days of protests and rioting in Baltimore.

The bench trials of two other officers ended with acquittals from Judge Williams in June; a trial ended with a hung jury in December, and a retrial is set for September.

Before their opening arguments last week, prosecutors dropped one misconduct charge against Lt. Rice.

Judge Williams threw out a second-degree assault charge after the prosecution rested its case this week. The judge said the prosecution had not done much to prove second-degree assault.

Judge Williams did not throw out the involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct charges, but said the reckless endangerment charge was “an extremely close call.”

Three other Gray-related trial are scheduled: Officer Garrett Miller beginning July 27, Sgt. Alicia White starting Oct. 13, and Officer William Porter’s retrial beginning Sept. 6.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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