From The Guardian
A judge found a Baltimore police officer not guilty on all of the charges against him for his involvement in the death of Freddie Gray. Officer Edward Nero is the first of six officers charged to receive a verdict since Gray’s death sparked uprising in the city more than a year ago.
Gray, a 25-year-old African American man, died a week after his arrest from injuries he sustained in police custody, setting off weeks of protest, followed by a riot, a state of emergency and a curfew.
Judge Barry Williams ruled Monday that Nero was not guilty of assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office, all misdemeanors.
Although Nero’s case produced the first verdict, it is prosecutors’ second attempt to hold officers criminally responsible for Gray’s death. The first trial of officer William Porter ended in a mistrial after the jury couldn’t reach a decision. He is slated to be tried again later this year.
Nero was one of the two officers who arrested Gray. A video recording of the initial encounter with Nero and fellow officer Garrett Miller that went viral after Gray’s death shows Gray screaming with his legs twisted up as he is dragged to the police van.
Nero and Miller arrested Gray after Lt Brian Rice claimed that Gray fled upon seeing police and called in a foot chase. Gray’s best friend, who was with him that morning, testified that Gray ran just before seeing the police and was not running from them. When Nero and Miller stopped Gray they still didn’t know why their lieutenant ordered them to chase Gray.
Prosecutors charged Nero with assault based on a novel legal theory that Nero committed a crime when he arrested Gray without meeting the legal standard of probable cause. Because the arrest was illegal, they reasoned, any contact with Gray after that was assaultive. They also argued that even if it was Miller and not Nero who initially detained and arrested Gray that Nero was still responsible as an accomplice.
Judge Williams peppered the prosecutors with skeptical questions about this theory during the trial.
“You’re saying here in this court that if there’s an arrest and there isn’t probable cause, it is a crime?” Williams repeatedly asked prosecutors.
But Miller, who had been forced to testify in the case, said during the trial that it was he, and not Nero, who was primarily responsible for the arrest.
Williams said he rejected the assault charge because he found that Nero was not legally responsible responsible for the initial detention and arrest of Gray.
“The court finds the contact by the defendant was legally justified,” Williams said.
Nero was also charged with reckless endangerment, for helping load Gray onto the floor of the police van in handcuffs and shackles without hooking his seatbelt. The medical examiner ruled that Gray died due to a catastrophic spinal injury that occurred in the van. Numerous police witnesses testified that it is the van driver’s responsibility to hook the seat belt. Caesar Goodson, who was driving the van that allegedly killed Gray, is the next officer to stand trial.
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