A judge found police officer Edward M. Nero not guilty of four criminal counts in the case of Freddie Gray, whose death last year in police custody sparked riots and widespread anger in the city.
The decision by Judge Barry G. Williams, announced Monday in a packed courtroom, is the first verdict reached in the Gray case. Nero is the second of six Baltimore police officers to face trial on charges related to Gray’s arrest and subsequent death. The first officer’s trial ended in a hung jury.
The verdict came after a trial held over six days. Nero had opted for a bench trial rather than have his case heard in front of a jury.
Nero, 30, was one of six Baltimore officers to face charges in the case of Gray, who died in police custody a week after suffering injuries in the back of a police van. Gray’s death sparked rioting and arson in Baltimore and brought additional scrutiny to the deaths of young black men at the hands of police officers across the country.
Nero was acquitted of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office.
Gray was arrested April 12, 2015 and then placed in the back of a police van with his hands cuffed behind his back and his legs shackled. Prosecutors say that Gray suffered a neck injury and lost consciousness as he was being transported in the van. He died about a week later without ever regaining consciousness.
The prosecution has argued that Nero had no probable cause for arresting Gray, 25, after a chase in Gray’s West Baltimore neighborhood and that the very act of arresting him amounted to an assault.
An “arrest without a justification” is how Baltimore Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe described Nero’s actions in her closing argument Thursday before a packed courtroom.
Prosecutors also argued that Nero failed to put Gray in a seat belt in the back of the police van, a decision that put Gray in jeopardy.
“Officer Nero knew what the risks were to put him in a wagon unrestrained,” Bledsoe said in her closing argument. “He could be thrown around the wagon like a pinball, just going back and forth, back and forth.”
Nero’s attorney, Marc Zayon, said that the state failed to prove any of its charges “beyond a reasonable doubt” and said that his client had acted as any reasonable Baltimore police officer would in his involvement with Gray.
The standard on which Nero should be judged, he told the judge, is: “What would a reasonable officer similarly situated do?”
(c) 2016 The Washington Post