Baltimore Officer Edward Nero will go free on all charges related to Freddie Gray’s death. Nero was one of six officers indicted by a grand jury after Gray’s April 2015 demise while in police custody. Nero wasn’t implicated in the actual death of Gray, although — as an arresting officer — he stood accused on several charges, which included reckless endangerment, assault, and misconduct in office. The other officers involved in the incident were charged with offenses that ranged from involuntary manslaughter to second-degree depraved-heart murder. Gray, of course, sustained a broken neck inside a police van after his arrest and died a week later.
Nero waved a trial by jury, so his fate was solely decided by Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams, who cleared Nero on all charges. Although Nero’s charges were minor compared to the other officers involved, his case holds significance as the first verdict delivered in the case (after a jury couldn’t reach a verdict regarding officer William Porter’s involvement in Gray’s death). Nero’s indictment shed a brighter light upon police misconduct and procedure, including undue force, which has landed under the spotlight in Baltimore. Williams faced a difficult decision that reportedly met audible uproar outside the courthouse. Gray family attorney Billy Murphy urged the public to stay calm:
“I have to commend Judge Williams on not being influenced by public opinion. It’s a very, very difficult job to sit as a judge under these enormously stressful conditions, and once again Barry Williams has shown he is a fair and impartial man. He showed tremendous courage in ruling against public opinion.
“I don’t think anybody should be upset with this verdict nor do I think anybody should have been elated about a guilty verdict. Only the people who sat through this trial and heard all of the evidence have a right to have an opinion about whether his opinion was fair and whether or not it was warranted under the circumstances.”
Again, Nero’s trial was never destined to be the most high-profile aspect of this case, but his acquittal of all wrongdoing will stand symbolic as the case continues. Gray’s death struck a chord that led to civil unrest and large protests throughout Baltimore. It also highlighted an ongoing civil rights struggle faced by people of color throughout our country, even in areas that one would least suspect. One year after Gray’s death, Baltimore police shot a 13-year-old boy who held a “replica” firearm, which shows that Baltimore’s troubles aren’t even close to a resolution.
Following Nero’s acquittal, the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police wasted no time issuing a statement: