The highest-ranking Baltimore police officer charged in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray has been found not guilty on all counts, marking the third acquittal of an officer charged in the case.
Judge Barry Williams found Lt. Brian Rice not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office Monday.
In his verdict, Williams said the failure to seat belt a detainee in a transport wagon is not inherently a crime, adding that the state failed to prove both that Rice was aware of his duty to seat belt Gray, and that he intentionally failed in that duty.
"The state failed to show that the defendant, even if he was aware of the risk, consciously disregarded that risk," the judge said.
Williams also said the state failed to show that Rice was aware of an updated policy that requires officers to buckle in prisoners. As a result, Williams said he operated under the impression that Rice was guided by a previous policy that allows for officer discretion when deciding when to belt.
Gray was arrested after he ran from police officers in a high-crime area of the city. He was handcuffed and later shackled in the back of the police van, but officers did not ever buckle him in, which is the department's policy. Gray died a week after his arrest.
Prosecutors had said Rice was most responsible of the six officers charged for following police procedures to fasten a prisoner in a seat belt, citing his 18 years of experience on the force.
The officer's attorney said police could use discretion, if they believe their safety is at risk. Rice attorney Michael Belsky 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.
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.
Law student Travis Robertson spoke with News4 outside the courtroom Monday morning.
"When a black man gets caught, he's convicted and prosecuted for killing a black man. But when police officers go kill somebody, judges find all kinds of B.S. not to prosecute and convict these officers," he said.
Rice was the fourth of the six officers charged to go on trial in Gray's death. Three officers' earlier trials resulted in two acquittals and a mistrial.
The other two officers charged, Sgt. Alicia White and Officer Garrett Miller, filed motions to dismiss their cases last month.
The police union is calling on Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby to drop the remaining trials. Some legal analysts agree.
"At some point in time, you would have to think that the evidence is just not going to support any further prosecutions of these police officers," Warren Brown said.
Professor Doug Colbert of the University of Maryland School of Law said Mosby's commitment should not be measured in convictions.
"The police are now on notice that the justice system stands ready to prosecute officers who commit crime," he said.
The trials are scheduled through October.
Mitchell McCluskey contributed to this report.