The prosecution had hoped to prove that Officer Edward Nero had been properly trained in restraining detainees, but that didn’t happen Friday. Nero is on trial and facing charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office over the death of Freddie Gray.
Gray, who died last year while in the custody of Baltimore police, wasn’t properly belted in the van transporting him, as Baltimore police policy required. The prosecution wanted to show that Nero knew better when it came to how to transport prisoners and acted improperly, but it didn’t exactly make the case.
Retired Police Officer Brenda Vicenti, a witness for the prosecution who was in charge of training Nero, said that there aren’t enough hours in the eight-week course to always complete the training.
In the training section on transporting prisoners, the sheet saying whether or not Nero passed was left blank but was signed as completed by both Vicenti and Nero. Vicenti explained that she is required to sign whether it is complete or not so that the academy can move on to “the next steps.”
During the trial, the prosecution, whether intentionally or not, painted a picture of a largely dysfunctional Police Department.
One witness, Detective Edward Bailey, a Baltimore City police officer, said that he was in charge of conducting seat belt audits for the department as it related to transport vans for all nine districts on April 10, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2014. The Northwest District, which includes the Western District involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, failed.
Officers had at least two opportunities to belt Gray early on in the transport, which is required by police policy. Gray could have been belted when the three arresting officers—Lt. Brian Rice, Officer Nero and Officer Garrett Miller—initially loaded Gray into the van. He could have been restrained at the van’s second stop, out of five stops, when they pulled Gray out of the wagon, placed him on the ground and put leg shackles on him.
The defense argued that police officers faced danger in attempting to belt Gray, and that even though it is department policy, officers are allowed to use discretion.
The prosecution also argued that Nero “just didn’t care,” in that Nero was also responsible for not getting Gray medical help. Gray asked early on for his inhaler. Miller and Nero asked him if he had it with him, and he responded that he didn’t. Despite this, officers didn’t request medical assistance.
The defense argued that Nero helped Gray look for his inhaler and that with his medical training, he saw no signs that Gray was having trouble breathing.
The defense strategy at times tottered dangerously close to victim-blaming, and stereotypes that persist around poor neighborhoods and aggressive policing tactics that target these areas.
During one exchange, the defense seemed intent on painting Gilmor Homes, the place where Gray was arrested, as a “high-crime area.”
“Is the area around Gilmor Homes a high-crime area?” defense attorney Marc Zayon asked a witness, Brandon Ross, a friend of Freddie Gray’s who videotaped part of what happened to Gray last year.
“There’s crime everywhere,” Ross answered.
“Are there drugs being sold around Gilmor Homes?” Zayon persisted.
“There are drugs being sold all over the world,” Ross answered.
“You’ve been all over the world?” Zayon asked.
“Objection,” the prosecution announced emphatically.
“Sustained,” Judge Barry Williams answered. “Strike the question and don’t do that again,” he admonished Zayon.
To prove the second-degree assault charge against Nero, the prosecution has to prove that Gray was unlawfully arrested. It’s a charge that could have ramifications for policing in Baltimore and, as the nation watches this case, for police precincts around the country.
“If that ever becomes the case, officers are just not going to make an arrest if they feel they will be prosecuted after making a good faith arrest. Public safety will be jeopardized,” said famed defense attorney Warren Brown.
“The assault charge will call into question so many arrests in our city where the police do not have probable cause. I think the prosecution is sending a message to police,” said Douglas Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor.
The reckless endangerment charge is one that Colbert thinks has some traction.
The prosecution is expected to finish its arguments Monday with potential testimony from Officer Miller and Officer William Porter, whose trial ended in a hung jury earlier this year.
“It’s a historic prosecution. All across the country, it’s, like, 1 or 2 percent of police killings get charged with a crime,” said Colbert. “I think the prosecution is letting the police know when a life is lost, police officers will face accountability.”