WASHINGTON, May 25, 2016 — The acquittal of Baltimore Police officer Edward Nero has outraged supporters of Freddy Gray. However, the ruling rightly exonerates Nero and keeps the finger of accountability pointed at the true culprits.
Baltimore Judge Barry Williams acquitted Nero after he waived his right to a jury trial. Nero was charged with second-degree intentional assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office for his actions on the day Gray died. Nero was one of the first officers to encounter Gray last year.
Williams acquitted Nero after deciding that there were no credible facts to show that Nero was directly involved in Gray’s arrest. Nero’s acquittal follows the trial of fellow Officer William Porter, which ended in a hung jury and mistrial last December. Nero’s interaction with Gray was minimal and his actions were legally justified.
Williams based his decision on the fact that Nero would reasonably expect the driver to make sure that Gray was secure before driving off. The misconduct charge would depend on proof that Nero failed to perform an act required by his job.
Four additional officers involved in the case are waiting to stand trial.
Nero’s acquittal enraged Baltimore’s African-American community. Protesters chased relatives of Nero into a parking garage. The head of Baltimore’s NAACP branch aired her disappointment, saying she is hopeful that someone will be held responsible for Gray’s death.
Nero is not the only police officer to be acquitted or not charged in a high-profile police brutality case. In 2014, St. Louis prosecutor Bob McCulloch decided to not bring charges against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown. But Nero’s indictment and those of his fellow officers were seen as a step forward in the battle against police brutality.
The Baltimore prosecutor failed to prove that Nero was responsible for Gray’s death. Nero’s only role was initially detaining Gray. Had Nero been responsible for securing Gray inside the police van, the result might have been different. However, the judge ruled that Nero was justified in expecting the driver to make sure Gray was properly secured.
While many in Baltimore may want to take to the streets to express frustration at Nero’s acquittal, their anger is better directed at other police officers, including Officer Caesar Goodson Jr.
Goodson’s trial will begin June 6.