When Judge Barry G. Williams found Officer Edward Nero not guilty of all charges Monday in the case involving the death of Freddie Gray, Nero put his head in his hands and sobbed.
Nero was charged with second-degree assault and two counts of misconduct in office, as well as reckless endangerment for putting Gray in the arrest van without a seat belt.
Williams spent 20 minutes explaining his ruling in a packed courtroom where Nero had been on trial for the last week, having opted for a bench trial rather than a trial by jury. The judge explained that in order to charge Nero with assault, the state must have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that there was offensive physical contact with Gray, and in order to charge Nero with misconduct, the state had to prove that Nero corruptly committed an unlawful act or corruptly failed to do an act required by the duties of his office. Then, in order to convict on the reckless-endangerment charge, the state had to prove that Nero acted recklessly. Williams essentially found that the state did not prove its case on any of these charges.
During the trial, defense attorney Marc Zayon argued that Nero was a minimal participant in the arrest and that Officer Garrett Miller, who was granted partial immunity for his upcoming July trial, testified that he was solely responsible for Gray’s arrest. He argued that Nero was not trained in the use of seat belts and the state could not prove that Nero had read the email stating general orders on seat belts that police officers were required to follow. The defense argued that a superior officer or the wagon driver would have been responsible for fastening Gray’s seat belt and that Nero did what any “reasonable officer” would do.
Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, rose to Nero’s defense after the verdict.
“The state’s attorney’s office responded to the riots and violence in Baltimore by rushing to charge these officers rashly and without any meaningful investigation,” Ryan said. “They seized a political opportunity and in the process destroyed six lives and demolished the relationship between the Baltimore Police Department and their own office. Officer Nero prays that justice will serve each of the remaining officers with the same fairness that it served him.”
Despite questions from the media on whether an acquittal would mean an eruption from the city, there were only a handful of demonstrators outside the courtroom, protesting peacefully with signs as helicopters whirred overhead.
Reactions to the verdict varied around the city, from stoops at Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray lived, to lawyers and activists.
The Gray family’s lawyer, Billy Murphy, who won a $6.4 million civil settlement for the Gray family, told The Root, “That’s all they wanted, a fair process. This officer had a well-illuminated, fair process.”
Defense attorney Warren Alperstein told The Root, “The decision that was made today was based only on what Nero did. Williams did not get into anything on what the other officers did or the legality of what they did. I’m not surprised that the decision was not guilty on all four counts. He found on the assault charge that it was not Officer Nero who apprehended, handcuffed and led Gray down the walk to the transport van.”
Source: The Root | ERICKA BLOUNT DANOIS