By Joe Heim and Rachel Weiner, washingtonpost.com
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 officer to face trial on charges related to Gray’s arrest and subsequent death. The first officer’s trial ended in a hung jury.
The 30-year-old Nero hugged his lawyers and wiped away tears after Williams read his ruling, which came after a trial held over six days. After court was adjourned, friends and fellow officers lined up to offer Nero congratulations. Nero had opted for a bench trial rather than have his case heard in front of a jury.
Nero was one of six Baltimore officers to face charges in the case of Gray, 25, 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.
Tessa Hill-Aston, head of the Baltimore NAACP, said she was disappointed in the verdict.
“It’s not a good day,” she told reporters outside the courthouse. “Freddie was fine until they stopped him. . .and they had no reason to arrest him.” She said she expected an “emotional” reaction from many city residents, having been in court with people “from all walks of life” who were upset by the verdict.
In a statement, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Nero will now face an administrative review by the police department.
“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 the statement. “We once again ask the citizens to be patient and to allow the entire process to come to a conclusion. In case of any disturbance in the city. we are prepared to respond.”
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 after a chase in Gray’s West Baltimore neighborhood and that the very act of arresting him amounted to an assault. The state also argued that Nero’s failure to put Gray in a seat belt in the back of the police van made him guilty of reckless endangerment.
But Nero’s defense attorney, Mark Zayon, successfully made the case that his client, who responded to a call to chase a fleeing suspect, acted as any reasonable Baltimore police officer would during the incident.
The verdict is a blow for Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby who brought charges against the six officers on May 1, 2015. Mosby sat in the front row for much of the trial but was not in court when the decision was announced. Prosecutors Michael Schatzow and Janice Bledsoe handled the case.
“This is a real shot across the prosecution’s bow,” said Tyler Mann, a Baltimore defense attorney who previously served as a prosecutor in the office of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney. “When you can’t even convince one person that he broke the law, that’s not a good sign.”
Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/verdict-expected-for-an-officer-charged-in-freddie-gray-case/2016/05/22/55c5b6d2-1ed7-11e6-8c7b-6931e66333e7_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_freddiegray-1105am-lede%3Ahomepage%2Fstory