Freddie Gray death: Baltimore Police Officer Nero not guilty

(Photo Credit: Arash Azizzada via Flick Creative Commons)

The first decision in cases against the Baltimore police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray was returned Monday. The verdict? Not guilty. FSRN’s Nell Abram has more.

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Edward Nero is one of the two Baltimore police officers who initially chased Freddie Gray after he made eye contact with them and then ran. Nero was acquitted on all four misdemeanor charges: second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office.

After police chased Gray and arrested him in April of 2015, he was placed shackled and handcuffed in a police van … but without a seat belt. By the time the van arrived at the police station, his neck was broken. He died a week later.

In his ruling, Judge Barry Williams said it was not Officer Nero’s responsibility to secure Mr. Gray in the back of the van, and found that the other officer involved in the initial contact was the arresting officer – not Nero.

The trial was not heard by a jury. It was a bench trial in which the judge decides the outcome. Attorney Billy Murphy represents Gray’s family in a civil matter related to his death. Talking to WJZ-TV after the verdicts were announced, Murphy commended the judge for his decision in the case, calling it well thought out and reasonable.

“It was all kinds of pressure, enormous pressure for him to go in the other direction and he showed tremendous courage in ruling against public opinion,” Murphy said, concurring with the judge’s assessment of the facts and the relevant law in the Nero case. “He was basically not a player in what happened to Mr. Gray. The judge found that he had no duty to go beyond what he did and he based that on the relevant case law, the circumstances.”

Gray’s death sparked widespread protests in the city and was a lightening rod for the Black Lives Matter movement. A small contingent of protesters at the courthouse were angry at the outcome, saying the bench trial rather than trial by jury cut the community out of the process.

Officer Nero has been suspended with pay since the charges were filed, and an internal department investigation is ongoing.

All told, six officers were involved and face charges in the events that led to Gray’s death. The first case ended in a hung jury, and will be retried. Next up is van driver Caesar Goodson – his trial on second-degree murder charges is set to begin June 6.

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