Attorneys made their closing arguments Thursday over whether police should have used a seat belt during the arrest of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who was placed in the back of a police van and fatally injured.
Lt. Brian Rice, the highest-ranking officer among the six charged in Gray’s death, is charged with manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct. Gray died April 19, 2015, a week after he suffered a spinal injury while he was handcuffed and shackled, but left unrestrained by a seat belt in the van. His death prompted riots last year in Baltimore.
Two officers have been acquitted and a trial for the third ended in a hung jury.
Prosecutors said Rice, who is white, was most responsible for following police procedures to fasten a prisoner in a seat belt, citing his 18 years of experience on the force. Prosecutors said police had no reason not to put Gray in a seat belt. Instead, he was put face down in the van in handcuffs and leg shackles. 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.
Michael Belsky, Rice’s attorney, said the policy allows officers to use discretion, if they believe their safety is at risk. He said officers had concerns, because Gray was not cooperative and they weren’t sure what onlookers would do if extra time was taken to fasten Gray in the van.
“What he did was professional,” Belsky said, adding that “this was not a scene where people are happy or cooperative.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys gave different characterizations of the onlookers. Prosecutors described them as concerned observers, while Belsky said officers heard threatening comments during the arrest.
Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams is presiding over the case and will announce his verdict Monday morning.
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