Baltimore Police Officer Found Not Guilty In Freddie Gray Case

May 23, 2016
Originally published on May 23, 2016 5:00 pm

Baltimore police Officer Edward Nero has been found not guilty of all four misdemeanor charges he faced in connection with the arrest of Freddie Gray.

Gray died on April 19, 2015, after suffering injuries while in police custody.

Following the ruling, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement, "This is our American system of justice and police officers must be afforded the same justice system as every other citizen in the city, state, and country."

Outside the courthouse, about a dozen protesters gathered. Once news of the verdict made its way through the crowd, they began chanting, "Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail!"

The Rev. Westley West, a well-known activist in Baltimore, looked shocked. He was angry.

"[Baltimore] should be upset," he said. "They should also let their voice be heard. Take to the streets. How much longer are we gonna lay down and let the same thing to keep happening?"

Nero was not charged directly with Gray's death. As the Two-Way reported when the bench trial began, he faced charges of second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.

Nero, 30, was accused of negligence for failing to buckle Gray into a seat in the police van. Gray's neck was broken during transport while he was handcuffed and shackled, but not buckled in.

One unconventional element of the case against Nero has drawn attention: Nero was accused of assaulting Gray, 25, by arresting him without probable cause. "Nero's defense has said they can find no other case of an officer being prosecuted like that," NPR's Jennifer Ludden reported earlier this month.

Multiple police officers face charges in connection with Gray's death, including charges of manslaughter and murder.

Nero is the second of the officers to be brought to court; the first trial, of Officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury.

As Nero left the courthouse, the group of protesters followed him. Tina Thompson, 29, screamed that he should be ashamed.

As he entered a parking garage, with other officers surrounding him, Thompson was overcome with emotion. She doubled over near the sidewalk. She said she felt like throwing up. She cried.

"He's just walking around, looking like he's OK," she said. "You killed somebody! You killed somebody's child."

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The trial of the second Baltimore police officer to be charged in the death of Freddie Gray has ended in an acquittal. Gray, who was black, suffered a fatal spinal injury after his arrest last year. Officer Edward Nero was the first white officer to go to trial in the case. He opted for a bench trial with a judge deciding his fate. He was found not guilty on all four misdemeanor charges in connection with Gray's death. The first officer's trial last year ended in a hung jury. NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Baltimore with on today's verdict.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Right before Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams handed down his decision, it was eerily quiet outside the courthouse - no wind, blue skies. The stillness is only interrupted by a protester and his guitar and the helicopter up above.


PERALTA: But suddenly, the news makes its way through the smartphones in the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Protestors...


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No justice.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No justice.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No justice.

PERALTA: Officer Edward Nero had been found not guilty on two charges of misconduct in office - an assault charge and a reckless endangerment charge. Reverend Westley West, a well-known activist here in Baltimore, is overcome. A trial without a jury is hardly justice, he says.

WESTLEY WEST: How much longer are we going to lay down and allow the same thing to keep happening? Aggressive policing is not what we need. We need accountability, and we need a system that works for us and not against us.

PERALTA: Legal analysts have always said that the case against Nero was aggressive. Nero wasn't charged with the death of Freddie Gray. Instead, all his charges stemmed from what prosecutor said was an illegal arrest. Scholars say this was the first time ever that an officer has been criminally charged for the violence resulting during an arrest.

PAUL BUTLER: It was a gutsy move by a prosecutor, and it was a failure.

PERALTA: That's Paul Butler, a professor of law at Georgetown University who has been following the case closely. He says that ultimately few of these cases end up with a guilty verdict because the system favors police. But these cases also tell us that both sides are often right, he says.

BUTLER: It can be true that the police officers treat African-American men unfairly. They treat them differently from other people and that they act within the law.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) The whole damn system (inaudible).

PERALTA: Back at the courthouse, protesters are still in shock. And then officer Nero walks out, and the chase ensues. Tina Thompson screams that he should be ashamed. As he enters the parking garage with other officers surrounding him, Thompson is overcome. She doubles over near the sidewalk.

TINA THOMPSON: I'm tired. They murdered - they killed somebody's child. He killed somebody's child (unintelligible).

PERALTA: She says she's 29 years old with kids and nephews who could be killed by police. I ask her, what happens now?

THOMPSON: I don't know. I'm just tired. I'm just tired of - it's been a whole year. Nobody has not gotten the time that he deserve. I don't understand. How much longer - then they just - he just walking around looking like he OK. You killed somebody.

PERALTA: Immediately after the verdict, Billy Murphy, an attorney for Freddie Gray's family, praised Judge Williams, saying the judge had a job to do, and he did it.

BILLY MURPHY: Because the family wanted justice. They didn't want a particular result.

PERALTA: What remains unclear is how this verdict will affect the trials of the other five officers. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.