BALTIMORE - A judge has acquitted a Baltimore police officer on all charges in the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died after he was injured in a police transport van.
Lt. Brian Rice was acquitted Monday after a bench trial by Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams.
Rice is the fourth of the six officers charged to go on trial in the 2015 death.
Gray died on April 19, 2015, a week after he suffered a spinal injury sometime during the van ride. His death prompted riots last year in Baltimore.
Three earlier trials resulted in two acquittals and a mistrial. Rice faced charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
Rice is white and the highest-ranking of the officers. Defense lawyers had argued for separate trials for each of the six because not all of the evidence applies to each defendant and they argued they do not want jurors prejudiced against their clients based on evidence that was brought into the trial against another defendant.
Also charged in connection with the case besides Rice were Officers Edward Nero, Garrett Miller, William Porter and Caesar Goodson, and Sgt. Alicia White. Goodson was the last officer acquitted by a judge, back in June. Nero was also acquitted by a judge in May. In December of last year, a Baltimore judge declared a mistrial for Porter in the first trial over Gray's death, because the jury in his case remained deadlocked.
CBS News' Justice Department reporter Paula Reid reports Rice's acquittal is not a surprise given that this trial involved the same case, the same facts, similar witnesses, and the same judge as the last acquittal.
There will likely now be increasing pressure on prosecutors to drop the remaining two cases. Civil rights advocates are also expected to shift their focus from the courtroom to improving rules for police conduct since a central part of this case is that safety procedure was not clear which is part of why these officers have not been deemed "criminal."
Many Baltimore residents said they expected the outcome in Rice's case.
"I already knew," Baltimore resident Perry Bailey Jr. told CBS Baltimore after news of the Rice verdict reached the streets of Baltimore Monday morning. "All six officers that's involved with the Freddie Gray trial, all of them will be found not guilty and the reason why is because the system is biased."
Early on in Rice's trial, Judge Williams dropped two charges: an assault charge and one count of misconduct in office.
Williams' verdict may have hinged on a simple question: Should the officer have put a seat belt on Freddie Gray?
During closing arguments last week, Judge Williams asked prosecutors if they believed it was a crime not to put a seat belt on Gray.
"So, failure to restrain equals criminal act?" the judge asked.
Michael Schatzow, chief deputy state's attorney, replied that it was, because to leave Gray face down on the floor of the van in handcuffs and leg shackles amounted to Rice not taking reasonable action to ensure his safety.
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