A Maryland state judge on Monday exonerated Baltimore police officer Edward Nero of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and one count of misconduct in office for the 2015 death of unarmed Black detainee Freddie Gray.
Judge Barry Williams, who heard the case in a bench trial, handed down the verdicts in Baltimore City Circuit Court. He was still reading the decision on the second misconduct charge against Nero.
Nero was the first of six officers to stand trial on charges after Gray, 25, suffered a fatal neck injury while being transported in a police van on April 12, 2015, and died a week later.
Nero’s attorneys had argued that Nero was not the one who made the arrest of Gray and asserted that it was the responsibility of the driver of the police van to properly secure Gray in the vehicle.
Judge Williams said there was no evidence Edward Nero had received the new seatbelt policy at roll call like he should have.
“Officer Nero is relieved that for him this nightmare is nearing an end. Being falsely charged with a crime, and being prosecuted for reasons that have nothing to with justice is a horror that no person should ever have to endure,” Baltimore City Police Department said in a statement following the ruling.
Meanwhile, T.J. Smith, the police department’s chief spokesman, said Nero will remain working in an administrative capacity while the police department’s internal investigation continues.
Gray’s death intensified a national debate over police treatment of African-Americans and sparked protests in the majority Black city of 620,000 people. It is one of the major incidents that helped stoke the Black Lives Matter movement and carry it into national, and international, prominence.
Since 2011, the city has paid about US$13 million in settlements and court judgments for alleged police misconduct. In such settlements — including a US$6.4 million payment to Gray’s family — the city does not acknowledge wrongdoing by its officers, according to the Baltimore Sun.