State criticized again for discovery violation in Freddie Gray case

 Judge denies defense request to dismiss indictment against police officer

By Heather Cobun
The Daily Record Newswire
BALTIMORE, MD — Thousands of pages of police training documents cannot be used in the case against a Baltimore lieutenant charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray after a judge Tuesday found prosecutors’ failure to obtain and disclose the documents sooner violated discovery rules.

The trial of Lt. Brian Rice, who is charged with manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office, is scheduled to begin Thursday in front of Baltimore City Circuit Judge Barry Williams after Rice waived his right to a jury trial.

At issue during Tuesday’s motions hearing were 4,000 pages of Baltimore Police Department documents pertaining to Rice’s in-service training, which Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said his office received June 28 despite requesting them for months.

Defense attorney Michael Belsky said there appeared to be some documents that could be useful to his client’s case but he only received them June 29 and was not even sure what they were until Schatzow’s remarks in court describing them.

Belsky asked Williams to dismiss the indictment against Rice as a remedy for this and other repeated discovery violations, but Williams quickly dismissed the idea.

“I have not found any law that allows this court to dismiss an indictment — you have not found any law that allows this court to dismiss an indictment — based on a discovery violation,” Williams told the defense lawyers.

Belsky, of Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner P.A. in Baltimore, then requested either the issue of training be excised from the case or the state be prohibited from using the documents — but not the defense. Williams rejected both solutions before suggesting the option he eventually chose: prohibiting both sides from using the evidence.

“You’ve got to be careful what you ask for because you may get it,” Williams said in chiding the defense.

Criticizing prosecutors

Tuesday marked another dressing-down for prosecutors because of a failure to provide discovery to the defense.

Schatzow explained that in the three trials preceding Rice’s, the training documents have been delivered approximately 30 days before trial, after which prosecutors would review and disclose them, a system he acknowledged was not ideal.

Williams wondered what other efforts the state made to obtain the documents, suggesting prosecutors could have spoken with supervisors at the police department or request subpoenas. Schatzow said his office was attempting to avoid subpoenaing the police department and instead tried to work things out.

But Williams said the state could not avoid repercussions for failing to obtain and disclose until days before trial documents it had a duty to turn over, adding that he did not care if they contained exculpatory evidence or not.

Previously, Williams scolded Schatzow for the state’s failure to turn over potentially exculpatory statements during Officer Caesar Goodson’s trial.

Williams has not yet accused prosecutors of intentionally withholding discovery but rather failing to understand the rules.

“You’re supposed to turn everything over that’s exculpatory,” Williams told Schatzow last month during Goodson’s trial. “I’m not saying that you did anything nefarious, I’m saying you don’t understand what exculpatory means.”

Other motions

Williams on Tuesday also denied other defense requests to drop charges against Rice, including a recent defense motion to dismiss their client’s indictment or release grand jury transcripts to help them find support for their allegations about defects in the prosecution.

In the motion, the defense claimed they learned Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe may have given testimony before the grand jury without being sworn in as a witness, but Williams said he did not find any indication of that upon reviewing the transcript in chambers.

Relying on the logic he used in previous cases, Williams also denied motions to dismiss some of the charges Rice faces, finding the state had made legally sufficient allegations, and denied several evidentiary motions for now, but allowed that some requests may become relevant later.

This will be Williams’ third bench trial in connection with Gray’s death. In the two previous cases, he found Goodson and Officer Edward Nero not guilty on all counts.


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