Edward Nero, the white police officer who arrested Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody in April 2015, was acquitted of all charges in Baltimore today.
Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams found Nero not guilty of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct. Gray died of a spinal injury that he sustained while in a police van where he was shackled without a seatbelt. His death sparked widespread anti-police protests in Baltimore.
The verdict will undoubtedly raise tensions in the city, but Nero’s case may not be the most contentious of the six officers accused of playing a part in Gray’s arrest, including officer Caesar Goodson, who drove the police van.
Nero’s case centered on the circumstances of Gray’s arrest, rather than his subsequent death.
Prosecutors alleged that the decision by Nero to handcuff and transport Gray before he was questioned was itself illegal. The case was decided by judge Barry Williams, rather than a jury, at Nero’s request.
“So, every time there’s an arrest without probable justification – it is a crime?” the judge asked.
“We believe that the search and arrest without justification are assault, your honor,” Janice Bledsoe, the deputy state’s attorney answered. “That’s what happens in the city all the time. People get jacked up in the city all the time,” she said in her closing argument.
“That’s a separate issue,” Williams responded.
The city of Baltimore has already paid $6.4 million to settle a lawsuit by Gray’s family.
The follows the pattern of many recent police killings, in which the victims’ families receiving millions of dollars in settlement deals while the officers themselves went unpunished, including the deaths of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Eric Garner in New York.