Baltimore police officer Edward Nero was acquitted Monday of all charges related to the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. His was the first of six trials, one for each of the officers implicated in Gray’s death, to result in a verdict.
Gray died on April 19, 2015, from injuries he sustained while in police custody a week earlier; his neck was broken while Gray was handcuffed in the back of a police van. Gray had been arrested not for a specific crime, but for having “fled unprovoked upon noticing police presence.”
His death in police custody became a flashpoint for the city of Baltimore, and the country at large, triggering impassioned protests of police treatment of black men and women.
Hundreds of protesters were arrested during demonstrations that lasted more than a week. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a 10 p.m. curfew, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency in the city, ultimately calling in the National Guard to restore order. Baltimore’s chief prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, announced the officers would face charges a few days later.
Nero’s trial centered around the question of whether Gray’s arrest was improperly performed. Prosecutors said Nero, one of two arresting officers, was operating within the scope of his duties when he stopped Gray, but outside of them when he handcuffed and searched the 25-year-old without cause.
Lawyers for the city also accused Nero of reckless endangerment for not making sure that Gray was properly restrained with a seat belt once inside the police van.
A judge found Nero not guilty of all charges. “The state’s theory has been one of recklessness and negligence,” Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams said. “There has been no evidence that the defendant intended for a crime to occur.” Rawlings-Blake told the Associated Press Nero would still face an administrative review by the police department.
Four of the police officers implicated in Gray’s death have yet to appear in court; the first trial, against officer William Porter, ended in a mistrial last year. Caesar Goodson, the driver of the police van in which Gray sustained his injuries, faces the most serious charge: second-degree depraved heart murder.