Another full acquittal in Baltimore [UPDATED]

Circuit Judge Barry Williams has acquitted Brian Rice of all charges related to Freddy Gray’s arrest and death. This is the fourth time, in four attempts, that prosecutors have failed to obtain a conviction in the Freddy Gray case.

Judge Williams cleared Rice of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office charges this morning. Previously, he had dismissed a second-degree assault charge. Prosecutors dropped a second misconduct charge at the start of the trial.

Here is the Baltimore Sun’s account of the decision. I’ll have more to say about it this afternoon.

UPDATE: Judge Williams read his verdict. He explained that although Rice’s failure to seat-belt Gray “may have been a mistake and may have been bad judgment,” it didn’t amount to a crime. Prosecutors, he said, failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rice acted with gross negligence, putting Gray’s life at risk.

According to the Washington Post, “about a half-dozen protesters received the news with disappointment” outside the court house.” (Emphasis added) The mob apparently has stopped beating this dead horse.

It’s time for Marilyn Mosby to stop beating it. If anyone was guilty of a crime in connection with Gray’s death it was Clarence Goodson who drove the van and/or Brian Rice, the senior involved in the decision not to use a seat belt to restrain Gray.

But both officers have been found not guilty. What’s the point now in prosecuting officers as to whom claims of culpability are even weaker?

David Jaros, a law professor with the University of Maryland in Baltimore, acknowledged that “it’s clear that this is a very difficult case to prove and that absent some new evidence, it will be very hard for the state to convict against the other officers because the theory is essentially the same.” But Jaros added:

If [prosecutors] believes a crime was committed and they believe they’re sending a valuable message to the community about the value of a poor black man’s life or what is appropriate responsibility for a police officer there are benefits of this trial that can’t be measured in convictions and acquittals.

I would have thought it requires more than mere “belief” by a prosecutor that a crime has been committed before criminal charges should be brought. And I’m pretty sure that it’s improper to bring down the hammer of the state on individuals just to send “a valuable message to the community” (even assuming there’s value to the community in bringing weak criminal charges against those who are there to protect and serve it).

In any event, surely Mosby and her team have sent delivered the message they wanted to send in the Freddy Gray matter. Future trials would be not only unjust, but arguably counter-productive in terms of sending any legitimate message.

Future trials would, as Bill Otis says, send (or rather confirm) a pernicious message — that the police are under attack, not because of misconduct but because of the culture of “racial snarling.”

Bill writes:

This fourth consecutive failure to convict a police officer in a politically-rigged prosecution comes less than 24 hours after three Baton Rouge officers were gunned down in the street. It comes a matter of days after five others were lured by following a supposedly “peaceful” BLM rally in Dallas, only — once the rally reached its destination — to be gunned down from ambush.

If the police do not view themselves as under attack across the country, they would have to be blind. The evidence is not merely statistical ( although that too). Just pick up your morning paper.

Bill adds:

A country that attacks and intimidates the people it hires to protect it will soon enough regret is foolishness. I don’t think serious observers can any longer doubt that one of the main reasons murder is surging across the country — with a shocking increase of 17% last year in our nation’s 50 largest cities — is that the police, under the weight of a toxic culture and an (at best) conflicted political leadership, are pulling back.

In Baltimore, the murder rate surged much more — 63 percent last year. It seems clear that this sharp spike is due in significant part to the way Marilyn Mosby and then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake treated the police after Gray’s death — a death as to which an African-American judge has repeatedly found no criminal responsibility attaches.

Mosby sent a message, all right. Baltimore’s residents, especially its black residents, are now suffering the consequences.