The second criminal trial stemming from the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore ended this morning with a not guilty verdict for Police Officer Edward Nero, the Baltimore Sun reports.
Nero was one of six officers to be charged in connection with Gray’s death, which resulted from injuries that Gray sustained while he was in police custody after being arrested on April 12, 2015. Another Baltimore officer, William Porter, was tried last year, in a case that ended in a hung jury and is expected to be retried later this year.
Nero, who elected to have a bench trial instead of facing a jury, had been charged with second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment. He was acquitted Monday on all charges.
During Nero’s five-day trial, prosecutors argued that, since there had been no probable cause for Gray’s arrest, Nero had committed a crime when he chased him and aided other officers in his detention. The 30-year-old officer was on bike patrol when his supervisor, Lt. Brian Rice, radioed for help in chasing Gray, who had fled from officers after making eye contact with one of them.
As the Sun put it, the state’s argument was that “Nero should have sought more information from Rice about why Gray’s stop was warranted before allowing his detention to play out and moving him.” Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said in court that Nero “had no idea what was suspected, and he made no effort to find out.”
The Sun called the state’s argument an “unprecedented effort to attach criminal liability to everyday policing tactics,” noting that it was premised on the idea that “officers who stray from laws surrounding the search and seizure of suspects are not only liable to administrative reprimand, the tossing of evidence in court and civil lawsuits, but criminal charges as well.”
The defense’s case centered around the assertion that Nero played only a limited role in actually carrying out Gray’s arrest; the officer’s defense attorney, Marc Zayon, said a different officer was responsible for catching Gray at the end of the chase and putting handcuffs on him.
The judge in the case, Barry G. Williams, said Monday morning that witness testimony from Nero’s fellow officers had confirmed that account. The judge’s decision was not a surprise: As the Sun reported throughout last week’s proceedings, Williams made it abundantly clear during the trial that he did not buy the state’s theory of the case, at one point asking Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe whether she was suggesting that “every time there is an arrest without probable cause, it is a crime.”
The next officer to be tried in connection with Gray’s death is Caesar Goodson Jr., who drove the police van in which Gray sustained his injuries. Goodson faces a charge of second degree murder, the most serious charge of all those involved. His trial is scheduled to begin on June 6.
The Baltimore Police Department issued a statement following Monday’s verdict saying that Nero will remain on administrative duty and under internal investigation until after the criminal cases against all five of the other officers implicated in Gray’s death are complete.