Edward Nero, the second of six police officers charged in the Freddie Gray case to stand trial, was found not guilty on all counts by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams Monday morning. Nero, Freddie Gray’s arresting officer, faced second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and two counts of misconduct in office.
The first trial, of Officer William Porter in December, ended in a hung jury and mistrial.
The prosecution argued that Nero had no reason to arrest Gray, and therefore handcuffing him on April 12, 2015, constituted assault. After waiving his right to a trial by jury, Nero’s bench trial began May 12, and final arguments were heard last Thursday:
WJZ’s Ron Matz says the trial was attended by a group of Baltimore City police officers, most in plain clothes. After the verdict was read, they came up to Nero one by one, embracing him and patting him on the back. Nero was seen with tears in his eyes.
Gray, a 25-year-old black man from the Sandtown area of Baltimore, died on April 19, 2015 of a spinal cord injury he sustained while in police custody.
His death set off more than a week of protests followed by looting, rioting and arson that prompted a citywide curfew.
According to WJZ’s Mike Schuh, who was outside the courthouse, there was a huge “roar of disapproval” that came from the protesters outside.
Fox News reported that some of the protesters screamed obscenities at Officer Nero’s double as he left the courthouse:
Local community activist Rev. Wesley West was one of the people protesting the decision:
I’m angry because this is what we deal with, and when I say “we,” we’re talking about the black community and I’m a part of and represent that community as well, it seems like we have no voice when it comes to these issues … When it comes to conversations like this, we’re not involved. This should have been a jury trial where the community had a voice in this case. Of course a system works in a system’s favor, that’s how I look at it. That judge represents the system, and the police officer represents a system, but they’re all one system working together. And again I don’t think case was actually tried fairly when it comes down the community being involved.
President of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 Lt. Gene Ryan said in a statement that Nero was pleased with the verdict but remained concerned about the five other officers: Nero’s “good friends … must continue to fight these baseless accusations.”
Ryan accused State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby of leveling charges not as the product of a “meaningful investigation” but as a response to riots in the city after Gray’s death. in the process, she “destroyed six lives,” Ryan said, as well as the relationship between the Baltimore Police Department and her office.
“None of these Officers did anything wrong,” Ryan said in his statement. “Officer Nero is relieved that for him, this nightmare is nearing an end. Being falsely charged with 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.”
A police statement said Nero will remain on administrative capacity during the investigations, which won’t be completed until the last officer’s trial ends because the officers may be called as witnesses in their co-defendants’ cases.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for “citizens to be patient” following the verdict. In contrast to last year, she denied residents the right to a “space to destroy” in protest:
“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 a statement. “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.”
She noted the city is “prepared to respond” to any disturbance in the city. “We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city,” she said.
Officer Nero will remain working in an administrative capacity while the police department continues its internal investigation, a police spokesman said.