World

Baltimore officer should have secured Freddie Gray in transport van, prosecutor argues

The highest-ranking Baltimore police officer charged in the death of black detainee Freddie Gray should have secured him in the transport van where Gray broke his neck, a Maryland prosecutor said on Thursday at the start of Lt. Brian Rice's manslaughter trial.

Manslaughter trial begins of highest-ranking officer charged in Gray's death

Baltimore police Lt. Brian Rice was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment, related to the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun/Associated Press)

The highest-ranking Baltimore police officer charged in the death of black detainee Freddie Gray should have secured him in the transport van where Gray broke his neck, a Maryland prosecutor said on Thursday at the start of Lt. Brian Rice's manslaughter trial.

But a defence lawyer for Rice, the fourth to be tried of six officers charged in Gray's death in April 2015, said in opening arguments that it was up to Rice to decide whether Gray should have been seat-belted.

Prosecutors are still seeking their first conviction for Gray's death, which triggered protests and rioting and stoked a national debate about police treatment of minorities. That debate flared again this week with the deaths of black men at the hands of police in Minnesota and Louisiana.

Rice ordered two officers on a bicycle patrol to pursue Gray when he fled unprovoked in a high-crime area. Prosecutors allege that Rice should have seat-belted Gray, 25, when he and another officer put him into the van while shackled. They also failed to call a medic.

Residents protest the death of Freddie Gray outside Baltimore City Hall in April 2015. Gray's death triggered rioting in which nearly 400 buildings were damaged or destroyed. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

"Because of decisions that Lt. Rice made that day, Mr. Gray is dead," chief prosecutor Michael Schatzow said in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Schatzow told Judge Barry Williams, who is hearing the case in a judge alone trial, that Rice was told days before Gray's arrest that updated police department protocol mandated seat-belting detainees in transport vans.

But defence lawyer Chaz Bell said the case against Rice centred on "three Cs" — Gray's combative attitude, a crowd looking on and the van's confined space.

The focus is "a nine-second assessment that it was too dangerous to force a seat belt on Gray," he said. Bell's argument about Rice's discretion is the same as that made in previous trials in which officers were cleared.

Rice is charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. Prosecutors dropped another misconduct count relating to the arrest on Thursday.

Williams has acquitted officers Caesar Goodson Jr. and Edward Nero, and a third officer, William Porter, faces retrial after a jury deadlocked.

Williams dealt a blow to the prosecution's case at a hearing on Tuesday when he ruled that neither they nor the defence could use 4,000 pages of documents related to Rice's training.

Prosecutors had turned it over to the defence only last week.

now