Officer Acquitted of Assaulting Freddie Gray

     BALTIMORE (CN) — A police officer charged with assault for the fatal arrest last year of Freddie Gray won a verdict of acquittal Monday at the conclusion of his bench trial.
     Edward Nero, 30, is the second of six Baltimore police officers to face a trial related to Gray, who died on April 19, 2015, a week after his arrest. The 25-year-old Gray sustained a critical spinal cord injury on April 12 while police transported him in handcuffs and shackles, but no seatbelt, to the police station.
     In reading Nero’s verdict Monday, Judge Barry Williams said the state failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that Nero acted in an unreasonable officer would have in the same situation.
     Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a statement after the verdict, quietly warning protesters that the city will not tolerate a repeat of the violent riots that occurred in the wake of Gray’s funeral.
     “In the case of any disturbance in the city, we are prepared to respond,” the mayor said in a statement. “We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city.”
     Nero still faces administrative proceedings within the police department, and Rawlings-Blake said the city must be patient while the entire justice process runs its course.
     Sheryl Wood, a former prosecutor who has been following the case, said outside the courthouse that the state was in a difficult position trying Nero on novel legal theories.
     Ordinarily, when the prosecution has a case where an arrest is found to be without probable cause, the charges are dismissed or evidence is suppressed, but the officer is not charged with assault.
     Wood said police are in a difficult position as well, facing a situation where they can be second-guessed on the split-second decisions they have to make every day.
     “Officers are not lawyers and they do not have access to legal counsel when they make the decision to arrest someone,” Wood said.
     If officers know their decisions are “being second-guessed … it is not only unfair it is potentially dangerous,” she added.
     Wood said that the verdict could have implications for the other bike officers involved in Gray’s death, who must still decide whether to waive their right to a jury trial, as Nero did.
     Nero won acquittal this morning on the misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office. The most serious charge of assault carried a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment.
     Prosecutors alleged that Gray’s arrest was an assault because it did not meet the standards of a legal detention. Nero’s defense showed that Nero a minimal role in the arrest, saying for example he had touched Gray only once.
     Manslaughter charges remain pending against the first officer to go on trial, William Porter, since the jury that heard his case last year wound up deadlocking.
     Before Porter’s retrial on Sept. 6, there is a murder trial beginning June 6 for Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the driver of the van.
     The manslaughter trial of Lt. Brian Rice is set for July 5. Officer Garrett Miller, who faces trial on July 27, is charged with assault.
     The manslaughter trial of Sgt. Alicia White begins on Oct. 13.

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