Second Freddie Gray Trial Begins, Edward Nero Trial Could Change Things

Thursday sees the second trial relating to the Freddie Gray case, involving Officer Edward Nero, which could lead to changes in the way similar cases are handled. The first trial last year relating to the death of Freddie Gray ended in a hung jury.

This time, that is unlikely to happen, as Thursday’s trial will be before a judge, and it is said the proceedings will have a better chance of ending in a verdict. It will also decide what can happen in future with police officers facing similar charges.

WBALTV quotes University of Maryland Carey School of Law Professor Doug Colbert as saying, “The prosecution is telling police officers, ‘Make sure you have probable cause before you make an arrest.'”

Nero, a former New Jersey volunteer firefighter, is one of the six Baltimore officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray and is facing several charges, including assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.

Nero, plus two other officers, arrested Freddie Gray, an African American man, after making eye contact with him and chasing him through West Baltimore last year. According to prosecutors, Gray was illegally detained.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun, following the chase officers handcuffed Gray and placed him in the back of a police van where he suffered a critical spinal injury and died a week later on April 19, 2015.

Reportedly a U.S. Supreme Court decision, based on a similar scenario, said that police have the authority to stop someone based on reasonable suspicion. However, according to University of Baltimore associate law Professor David Jaros, “It would not give the officer justification to arrest.”

When news of Gray’s death was announced, Baltimore saw massive protests, rioting and looting and Gray’s name became a rallying cry by those against what they claim is the brutal treatment of African American men by police officers.

Shortly after Gray died, the State Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six police officers. Of the six, Garrett Miller is facing the same charges as Nero, while officers Caesar Goodson, William Porter, Sgt. Alicia White, and Lt. Brian Rice face an additional manslaughter charge. In Goodson’s case, he also faces the most serious charge of second-degree murder.

Reportedly Nero opted for the judge trial rather than a jury trial, which Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams says will likely take around five days.

In the case of Porter, he was tried by jury in October last year, but the proceedings ended in a mistrial after jurors failed to agree on any of the four charges the officer was facing.

According to prosecutors, Nero, along with Miller and Rice, broke the law when detaining Gray. Reportedly they are not arguing that Nero is responsible for Gray’s injury or death, but that chasing and detaining him amounts to an assault.

Reportedly, during pretrial motions on Tuesday, Williams ruled that prosecutors could not bring up the legality of the knife found in Gray’s pocket after his arrest. The state had initially said the knife was a legal folding knife, with the defense saying it was an illegal switchblade. Any information relating to Gray’s criminal past will also be excluded from the trial.

Williams also ruled that audio – in which Gray can be heard screaming – is considered prejudicial and will be excluded at the trial. However, video footage from the city’s surveillance cameras and cellphone video footage taken by bystanders will be admissible in court.

[Photo via Flickr by scottlum, cropped and resized/CC BY-NC 2.0]