The second of six Baltimore police officers to be tried in connection with the death of Freddie Gray was found not guilty of all charges Monday.
Officer Edward Nero, who was on bike patrol and one of the first officers to encounter Gray when he responded to a call on April 12, 2015, had been charged with second-degree intentional assault, two counts of misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.
The case against William Porter, the first officer to go on trial, ended in a mistrial in December after jurors could not agree on a verdict. He will face retrial later this year. Nero waived his right to a jury trial and instead opted for a bench trial, where Maryland Circuit Judge Barry Williams heard the case.
Williams ruled Monday that Nero was not the officer who made the arrest and did not handcuff Gray; therefore, he could not be convicted of assault or misconduct.
The Maryland state’s attorney argued that Nero and the other police officers had no reasonable suspicion or probable cause to arrest Gray. As a result, prosecutors charged, Gray’s arrest had no legal basis and his detention by police amounted to an assault. Prosecutors also argued that Nero was guilty of reckless endangerment for failing to properly secure Gray in the police van.
Gray died from spinal injuries a week after he was arrested and placed in the back of a police van with his hands handcuffed behind his back and his legs shackled, and without a seatbelt. Prosecutors said he suffered a neck injury and lost consciousness as he was being transported.
However, in his verdict Williams said the contact between Nero and Gray “was legally justified and not reckless.” The judge added that the state did not prove Nero committed a crime by failing to secure Gray with a seat belt because prosecutors did not show Nero had direct responsibility for placing a seat belt on Gray or even that he was trained to do so.
The verdict comes a little over a year after Gray’s death, which triggered days of rioting and violent protests in Baltimore and called attention to the treatment of Blacks and other minorities by police in the city. Gray was Black. Three of the officers charged in connection with Gray’s death are white and three are Black.
Following the verdict Monday, Tessa Hill-Aston, head of the Baltimore NAACP, told reporters she was not pleased with the outcome. “It’s not a good day,” she said. “Freddie was fine until they stopped him … and they had no reason to arrest him.”
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Nero will now face an administrative review through the police department.
The next officer to stand trial is Caesar Goodson. He is the officer who drove the police van that carried Gray to the police station. He will be tried before a jury in June.