BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore officer was acquitted Monday of assault and other charges in the arrest of Freddie Gray, dealing prosecutors a significant blow in their attempt to hold police accountable for the young black man's death from injuries he suffered in the back of a police van.
A judge also found Officer Edward Nero not guilty of reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. The assault charge carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and reckless endangerment carried a punishment of up to five years.
Gray died April 19, 2015, a week after his neck was broken in the back of a police transport van while he was handcuffed and shackled but left unrestrained by a seat belt.
Nero was one of six officers charged in the case. He waived his right to a jury trial, opting instead to argue his case before Circuit Judge Barry Williams.
Officer William Porter's manslaughter trial ended in a hung jury in December.
Gray's death set off more than a week of protests followed by looting, rioting and arson that prompted a citywide curfew. His name became a rallying cry in the growing national conversation about the treatment of black men by police officers.
Prosecutors said Nero unlawfully detained Gray and acted callously when he made a decision not to buckle Gray into a seat belt when he was loaded into the back of a transport vehicle.
Nero's attorney argues that his client didn't arrest Gray and that it is the police van driver's responsibility to buckle in detainees. The defense argued that the officers who responded that day acted responsibly, and called witnesses to bolster their argument that any reasonable officer in Nero's position would have made the same decisions.
The defense also sought to convince the judge that the department's order requiring that all inmates be strapped in is more suggestion than rule because officers are expected to act with discretion based on the circumstances of each situation.
The other officers are set to each have separate trials over the summer and into the fall. Nero is white and Porter is black. Two of the other officers charged in the case are white and two are black.