Prosecutors play tape depicting heated exchange between Lt. Brian Rice and residents during Gray’s arrest as Judge Barry Williams prepares to render verdict Monday in trial of the fourth officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray
TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network, here in Baltimore City Maryland. We’re outside the Mitchell Courthouse where we’re hearing the prosecutor’s closing arguments in the trial of Lieutenant Brian Rice, one of the six officers charged with the in custody death of Freddie Gray. Later we’ll be speaking to legal experts. So Stephen, you were in the courtroom with me today. STEPHEN JANIS: Right. GRAHAM: What did you think of the prosecutor’s closing arguments? What did you think was her strongest point? JANIS: Well you know she talked about the narrative that has thus far been presented not just the courtroom but the media and she made some very interesting arguments. One of the main arguments that the defense has made about the reason why Freddie Gray wasn’t seat belted that they didn’t do anything to provide for his safety was because he was combative. So she sort of went through video and pictures and showed that their main reason they said Freddie Gray was combative was because there was a huge crowd and Freddie Gray was being I guess flailing his arms and I guess the idea of his legs. And during the trial, during this particular argument, she kind of went through this particular sequence showing that there wasn’t much of a crowd. Maybe 7-10 people in the first stop. Then by the second stop was 3 to 4 people. Then she again referenced a video about Freddie Gray’s lack of a combativeness as seen on the video. And then she also shows something very interesting that really hasn’t been emphasized much in all these cases in terms of all the narratives we have seen which is Nero, Miller, and Rice back away almost immediately once Freddie Gray leaves the van. Go and meet on this corner far away from where the van is. GRAHAM: She described it kind of as an alley where the three of them met, correct? JANIS: Yea they had this meeting which no one’s really ever explained why they met, what they were talking about. I mean they did call in, well I’ll get to that but they had this meeting where they all meet. They go away from the van. This van that they describe as shaking, rocking violently. The crowds and everything that they say was sort of figured into their analysis that they had to actually handcuff and actually hogtie Freddie later on. All that stuff, they’re not observing that. They’re not in front of the van. They’re not watching the van move. They’re not in front of the crowd. They’re in this alley. All three of them. Now these are the people that initiated the arrest. These are the people, two of the men, are the people who actually arrested and detained Freddie Gray and Brian Rice is the person who ordered his arrest. And they all get together. And in that little meeting they say they call the van and told it to stop and that’s where they make this decision to hogtie. Now if it truly was this continued behavior of the crowd, if it was Freddie Gray, why did they leave that scene and come and make that decision and then go to the van? I think that was really interesting because I think it shows a certain intentionality that’s far removed from what the defense’s argument was part of their spectrum of decision making. GRAHAM: Now initially the prosecutor described for Lieutenant Rice, something that seemed almost like a decision tree and she went through a series of choices that he made and he chose not to act. Could you describe a little bit about what the prosecutor was talking about? JANIS: Right well she goes through almost every step from you know he chose not to seatbelt him. He chose not to call for aid. He chose not to provide for or examine him when he had him in the van to see if he was injured. he chose not to do this and x, y, and z. She went down a very extensive list of what he chose not to do and I think the idea there was this was a decisions. This was a calculated decision to not provide for his safety. To not follow orders. Like he chose not to follow order k14 which is the order–the general order that was put off that was disseminated by the police just prior to Freddie Gray being in the back of the van, required officers to belt people in the van. So he chose not to follow k14. She was very methodical about going down the list. So it was effective and I think it also showed that [inaud.] was defensive. They were not able to make a case that this was a concerted effort to ignore the law. I think that’s what the intention was and I think it was effective. GRAHAM: It did seem that they showed that inaction can be as deadly and significant as action itself. Now Judge Barry Williams said something interesting. He said I’m a vessel. I’m taking this all in. He said this when the prosecutor was talking. What do you think of Judge Barry Williams’ demeanor today? JANIS: Well he was saying this in response to Jan Bledsoe saying you know you’re giving that look again. The word of skepticism was brought up because I think it sort of illuminated the frustration of the prosecution that they have not yet won a conviction and two of the decisions have been made specifically by judge Barry Williams. And I think it was an interesting counter because it shows sort of that the defense, that the prosecution feels like their arguments aren’t being given fair sort of consideration. GRAHAM: Did you think the defense had any cogent arguments? Did you think they had strong points? JANIS: Well, I think the primary lynch pin of the defense argument and I think that this is the one that interesting people believe. That if you think that Freddie Gray was a combative, if you believe that the crowd was egging Freddie Gray. GRAHAM: And hostile. JANIS: Hostile. Egging Freddie Gray on and for Freddie Gray’s own safety had to be hogtied and laid flat in the back of the van then that was their argument. Their argument was that these officers made reasonable decision. He also took great issue with the defense sort of Jan Bledsoe’s. He chose not to [inaud.]. There was a n interesting and sort of combative moment when he said the defense has failed to prove that the general order k14 applies to Lieutenant Rice. And Judge Barry Williams says what do you mean, why wouldn’t it apply to them? How did they fail to prove that? And he really didn’t have an explanation for that. But you can see in that argument that the entire spectrum of law enforcement in Baltimore. A general order issued by a Commissioner to a Lieutenant supervisor, they’re making an argument in a court of law that it doesn’t apply to them. That it’s the burden of the state to prove that a general order applies to a Lieutenant. GRAHAM: Stephen something that I found really interesting was Jan Bledsoe describing how Lieutenant Rice interacted with the crowd. Now one of the defense’s main points was a crowd or a hostile crowd in Gilmore Homes, and Gilmore Homes was literally emptying out, was one of the reasons why they had to move the van to stop two when they did. And she did during his interaction with the young man who was using his cellphone to videotape him, I believe his name was Brandon Ross, and there was an interaction between them, a bit of an argument and Prosecutor Bledsoe played the tape where you could hear Lieutenant Brian Rice interacting with Ross and with the crowd. And he says jail, jail, jail. That sort of interaction to me doesn’t seem like de-escalation. What did you think about Bledsoe’s comments? JANIS: Well first of all, just she played an excerpt from the video. You can hear him say very [demonstrably] jail, jail, jail. This was at the second stop where Freddie Gray was being taken out and being put into the handcuffs and the shackles. So the Judge refused to say I’m not going to listen to that because it wasn’t introduced in the evidence. But I did think it pointed out that there was an aggressiveness to this arrest and there was sort of a defensiveness about it, right. Something that wasn’t really mentioned but it sort of the big elephant in the room that showed that the officers were defensive which sort of intersects with the other evidence. How they drove and huddled together or biked and huddled together away from the crowd. How they made the van stop again. How they made the van stop six times. I think it showed that Rice was angry and there was something other going on other than what has been contended throughout this trial. I think that’s why that was significant because of evidence. GRAHAM: Do you think the prosecution has actually reached the burden of proof necessary to get a conviction? JANIS: No. It seemed very similar to the other trials. I t seemed like Judge Williams was questioning the state’s case as he did with the other trials in terms of what officer Rice’s specific role was and whether he actually came into play to what stop. And then in terms of being the proximate cause or the actual cause of Mr. Gray’s injury, it just seems like the court had trouble linking his role to the eventual death. GRAHAM: Now Judge Barry William made a statement I found interesting. Which he was talking to the Prosecution, to Prosecutor Bledsoe and said, I’m an open vessel. I’m just ready to take everything in and I would say Prosecutor Bledsoe seemed–thought that was somewhat humorous. What did you think of Judge Berry William’s demeanor today? JANIS: It’s always difficult when humor gets injected into such a serious trial but there has to be some levity. everyone’s human. I liked that statement. It kind of let everyone know that he was still open to questioning the police and listening to the state’s case and holding the police accountable. If they could just give us some evidence and he was looking for it. GRAHAM: Judge Barry Williams final decision of the day was that the verdict will come Monday. This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network here in Baltimore City, Maryland.