Nero, center left, and Edward Nero, center right,
brother and father of Officer Edward Nero, one of
six Baltimore city police officers charged in
connection to the death of Freddie Gray, are
escorted out of a courthouse after Nero was
acquitted of all charges in his trial in Baltimore,
Monday, May 23, 2016.
BALTIMORE — After two
trials and no convictions, Baltimore's top prosecutor is
facing criticism that she moved too quickly to file
charges against six officers in the death of Freddie Gray
without first ensuring there was enough evidence to bring
them to bear.
Even the judge overseeing
the cases — in his verdict Monday acquitting the latest
officer to stand trial in the death of the
African-American man — said the state failed to prove
its case on any of the charges.
Baltimore Circuit Judge
Barry Williams acquitted Officer Edward Nero of the
assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment
charges in connection with Gray's arrest last year outside
a West Baltimore housing complex.
Gray died on April 19,
2015, a week after his neck was broken while handcuffed,
shackled, but left unrestrained by a seat belt in the back
of a police van. The circumstances of his arrest and his
subsequent death triggered protests demanding justice for
Gray. On the day of his funeral, rioting and looting broke
out. The National Guard responded, and a curfew was
gather outside of a courthouse after Officer Edward
Nero, one of six Baltimore city police officers
charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray,
was acquitted of all charges in his trial in
Baltimore, Monday, May 23, 2016.
Williams delivered his
verdict in the racially charged case before a packed
courtroom Monday. Nero's parents and his brother sat in
the front row; a few rows away, Gray's stepfather.
Noticeably absent, however, was State's Attorney Marilyn
Mosby, who was present when Williams declared a mistrial
in the trial for Officer William Porter in December.
After announcing charges
against the officers last May — one day after receiving
the police department's investigation while a tense city
was still under curfew — Mosby did not shy from the
spotlight. She posed for magazine photos, sat for TV
interviews and even appeared onstage at a Prince concert
in Gray's honor.
After the acquittal, Nero's
lawyers sought to send a strong message to her.
"Officer Edward Nero,
his wife and family are elated that this nightmare is
finally over," wrote Marc Zayon and Allison Levine in
a statement. "The state's attorney for Baltimore city
rushed to charge him, as well as the other five officers,
completely disregarding the facts of the case and the
applicable law. His hope is that the state's attorney will
reevaluate the remaining five officers' cases and dismiss
Mosby spokeswoman Rochelle
Ritchie, citing a gag order in the case, declined comment
David Weinstein, a Florida
attorney and former federal civil rights prosecutor, said
the verdict will probably serve as a "wake-up
call" for prosecutors.
this March 3, 2016 file photo, Baltimore State's
Attorney Marilyn Mosby, left, arrives at Maryland
Court of Appeals in Annapolis, Md. The Baltimore's
top prosecutor is facing criticism that she moved
too quickly to file charges against six officers in
the death of Freddie Gray without first ensuring
there was enough evidence to bring them to bear. A
judge on Monday, May 23, acquitted Officer Edward
Nero of the assault, misconduct in office and
reckless endangerment charges in the April 2015
arrest of the African-American man. Legal experts
say the acquittal in the racially charged case could
be seen by some as a confirmation of criticism that
Mosby rushed to file charges.
"This speaks to the
notion a lot of people had when this first happened, which
is that it was a rush to judgment," Weinstein said.
"The state's attorney was trying to balance what she
had with the public outcry and call to action given the
climate in Baltimore and across the U.S. concerning
policing, and I think she was overreaching."
professor Alan Dershowitz said he believed the judge's
verdict was an example of the legal system looking at the
facts of the case without being influenced by race or
community pressure. He said he "absolutely"
believed Mosby overreached in bringing charges against the
"There's no question
she acted irresponsibly," Dershowitz said in a
telephone interview. "She acted politically. She
acted too quickly, and the public ought to make her pay a
price for seeking to distort justice."
Although the judge's ruling
referred specifically to Nero's case — the other
officers will be tried separately for their alleged roles
— he rejected nearly every claim the state made at
trial, repeatedly telling prosecutors they'd failed to
prove any of the counts beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutors had argued that
Nero and colleague Garrett Miller illegally detained and
arrested Gray without probable cause, and that Nero was
reckless when he failed to buckle Gray into a seat belt
during the van's second stop blocks from the arrest. Zayon
argued Nero wasn't involved in Gray's arrest, having only
arrived after the 25-year-old man black man was in
handcuffs. As for the seat belt, Zayon said not only was
Nero unaware of a newly revised policy requiring officers
to buckle in prisoners — the previous policy gave
officers discretion based on circumstances — but that it
was the van driver's responsibility to make sure Gray was
In his verdict, Williams
said he believed Miller, who took the stand as the state's
principal witness and testified that he alone detained and
handcuffed Gray. The judge told prosecutors they failed to
prove Nero did anything wrong. In terms of the arrest that
the state alleged was an assault, Williams ruled Nero
wasn't involved. As for his failure the buckle Gray in,
Williams said there was no proof Nero knew he had a duty
to belt the prisoner in, or that he failed to do so on
"The state's theory
from the beginning has been one of negligence,
recklessness, and disregard for duty and orders by this
defendant," Williams said. "There has been no
information presented at this trial that the defendant
intended for any crime to happen."
Nero, who is white, was the
second of six officers charged to stand trial. The
manslaughter case against Porter ended in a mistrial in
December when the jury deadlocked. Prosecutors plan to
retry him in September.
Warren Brown, a Baltimore
attorney who observed much of Nero's trial, said the
verdict proved how thin the state's cases are against the
"It was clearly a case
where the state decided that come hell or high water they
were going to prosecute Nero and Miller, and I think that
the ridiculous prosecution was borne out," Brown
said. "This thing may extend on and on, quite
frankly. It's the prosecution that keeps on giving."
Trial No. 3 — that of van
driver Caesar Goodson, who prosecutors believe is most
culpable in Gray's death — is set to begin in two weeks.
He is charged with second-degree murder.