There was disappointment from some quarters – but not much surprise – that Edward Nero, the second Baltimore police officer to stand trial in connection with the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, was found not guilty today on all charges.
During a five-day bench trial before Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams, prosecutors presented evidence on four misdemeanor charges, including second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
The state alleged that Nero’s arrest was assault because he did not have legal cause to detain Gray. The reckless endangerment charge was related to his failure to belt Gray into the police van during his April 12, 2015 arrest.
The 25-year-old suffered severe spinal cord injuries on that day and died a week later. Prosecutors say the injuries took place while he was in the back of the van. The arrest set off days of citywide protesting and, on the day of Gray’s funeral, rioting and looting.
Throughout the trial, Judge Williams’ tough questioning of the prosecution signaled his skepticism toward the argument that because police had little reason to arrest Gray, their detention of him was an assault.
“Every time there is an arrest without probable cause, it is a crime?” Williams had asked deputy state’s attorney Janice Bledsoe, pressing her on the point during closing arguments last Thursday.
Activist Kwame Rose tweeted his reaction to the acquittal, and to that fact that the national media seemed bent on finding a repeat of last year’s rioting after today’s court judgement.
“Freddie Gray was wrongfully arrested. His life was never protected while in custody. A year later those responsible have yet to be punished. The only riots happening are in my mentions right now,” he said.
“The MD Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights, coupled w/ the union contract, almost guarantees that officers will not be held accountable,” added Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson.
Green Party mayoral candidate Joshua Harris thanked Williams and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby for pursuing the case but said more fundamental reforms are needed to address issues at play in Gray’s arrest and death.
“While I respect the legal process, I am aware that there are systemic and structural problems with race, class and economic disparity that extend far beyond this trial. It is those issues that have created the conditions for us to be at this point,” Harris said, in a prepared statement. ” Sadly, not much has been done in the one year since the unrest to begin to address these disparities.”
Baltimore BLOC, which has been organizing around excessive use-of-force by police called the acquittal, “upsetting” but predictable.
“To seek justice for Freddie Gray . . would mean mean risking her office’s relationship with the corrupt and brutal Baltimore Police Department,” the group said in a tweeted statement.
Police union officials, meanwhile, applauded today’s decision and called for the dropping of charges against the five other officers charged in the case.
“Being falsely accused of a crime and being prosecuted for reasons that have nothing to do with justice is a horror that no person should ever have to endure.” said Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police president Gene Ryan in a statement to the media.
“Officer Nero prays that justice will serve each of the remaining officers with the same fairness it served him,” Ryan said. “He implores State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to refocus her flawed analysis of the facts surrounding Mr. Gray’s death and dismiss the remaining charges.”
Mayor: “We Are Prepared”
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake who is in Las Vegas, Nevada, today attending the RECon shopping center convention, issued the following statement via Twitter:
“This is our American system of justice and police officer must be afforded the same justice system as every other citizen in this city state and country. 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,” Rawlings-Blake said. “In the case of any disturbance in the city, we are prepared to respond. We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city.”
Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith noted, also on Twitter, that the administrative review of all six officer’s conduct continues and that until its conclusion, Nero will remain on administrative leave.
“The internal investigation is being handled by other police departments,” Smith said. “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.”
State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged six officers last May following Gray’s death and several days of civil unrest concentrated in West Baltimore. There was no reaction from Mosby’s office to today’s acquittal.
Two weeks from now on June 6, Caesar Goodson Jr., the van driver during the Freddie Gray arrest, is scheduled to stand trial. Officer William Porter, whose first trial ended in a hung jury; he is scheduled for a retrial later in June.