Freddie Gray case: Baltimore Police Officer Edward Nero found not guilty of all charges

By Justin Fenton and Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams on Monday acquitted Officer Edward Nero of all counts for his role in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.

The judgment, following a five-day bench trial, is the first in the closely watched case. Nero, 30, faced four misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office.

Prosecutors had argued that Nero committed an assault by detaining Gray without justification, while the reckless endangerment charge related to Nero’s role in putting Gray into an arrest wagon without buckling a seat belt. In closing arguments Thursday, Williams had skeptically questioned prosecutors about their theory of assault, which legal experts said was unprecedented.

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Nero leaned forward after the verdict was read, and wiped his eyes. He hugged his attorneys.

Nero was the second of six city police officers charged in the case to stand trial. The first trial, of Officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury and mistrial last December.

Nero, a former New Jersey volunteer firefighter who joined the Baltimore Police Department in 2012, is one of three officers who were on bike patrol when they chased and arrested Gray in West Baltimore.

Gray, 25, suffered severe spinal cord injuries while in the back of a Baltimore police van, prosecutors say. He died a week later, touching off citywide protests. On the day of his funeral on April 27, rioting, looting and arson broke out, leading the mayor to institute a weeklong nightly curfew and the governor to call in the National Guard.

Nero’s trial lasted six days, with the prosecution calling 14 witnesses and the defense calling seven before closing statements last Thursday.

Nero’s attorneys had sought to minimize his role in the arrest, saying that he had limited contact with Gray. They also argued that Nero followed his training.

Following the verdict, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for “citizens to be patient.”

“This is our American system of justice and police officers must be afforded the same justice system as every other citizen in this city, state, and country,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “Now that the criminal case has come to an end, Officer Nero will face an administrative review by the Police Department. We once again ask the citizens to be patient and to allow the entire process to come to a conclusion.”

She noted the city is “prepared to respond” to any disturbance in the city. “We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city,” she said.

T.J. Smith, the police department’s chief spokesman, said Nero will remain working in an administrative capacity while the police department’s internal investigation continues.

“The internal investigation is being handled by other police departments. The internal investigation will not be completed until all of the criminal cases against the other five officers are completed because they will likely be witnesses in each case,” Smith said in a statement.

DeRay McKesson, a Black Lives Matter activist who unsuccessfully ran for mayor this year, said “the Nero verdict is a reminder that we must continue to push for policies and laws related to the police department that explicitly call for the preservation of life and that have clear lines of accountability.

“I am reminded that this is one of six trials as we seek accountability for the death of Freddie Gray,” McKesson added.

The next trial in the case will be that of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr, the driver of the van used to transport Gray. His trial is scheduled to begin June 6. His trial is to be followed by those of Lt. Brian Rice (July 5), Officer Garrett Miller (July 27), Officer William Porter (Sept. 6) and Sgt. Alicia White (Oct. 13).

(c)2016 The Baltimore Sun

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