BALTIMORE (RNN) - Edward Nero, one of six Baltimore police officers facing trial for the death of Freddie Gray, was acquitted Monday when a judge determined he was not involved in the arrest.
Nero was on bike patrol on April 12, 2015, the day Gray was arrested and suffered spinal injuries in the back of a police van. Nero and Garrett Miller, another bike officer who is among the six facing charges, chased Gray several blocks before he was apprehended. They were accused of ignoring Gray when he asked for an inhaler and then dragging him before he was placed in the van.
Miller testified he placed Gray into custody on his own, and Nero was not present. His testimony was a major reason the judge rejected the prosecution's argument of Nero's involvement.
Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams, who is presiding over the cases of all the officers, said the state failed to prove the officer acted unreasonably. Williams previously worked as special counsel for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and was a former Baltimore prosecutor.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Nero is still subject to scrutiny from his police department superiors.
"Now that the criminal case has come to an end, Officer Nero will face an administrative review by the police department," Rawlings-Blake said. "We once again ask the citizens to be patient and to allow the entire process to come to a conclusion."
A modest-sized crowd of protesters gathered outside the courthouse prior to the verdict. Many were visibly upset after the announcement, but it did not reach anywhere near the violence that broke out after the first officer's trial in December.
A reporter from The Baltimore Sun tweeted protesters followed Nero's family to the parking garage, but no major incidents broke out.
Nero, 30, was charged with second-degree intentional assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office. The assault charge was the most serious and carried a maximum term of 10 years. He pleaded not guilty and opted for a trial by a judge instead of a jury of his peers.
Officers found a switchblade on Gray, but Baltimore City Attorney Marilyn Mosby said he was carrying it legally. The knife did not come up in testimony during Nero's trial last week, puzzling many legal experts.
The officer's defense team argued in written motions that the knife was illegal under city code, and "formed the basis of the officers' probable cause to arrest Gray," The Baltimore Sun reported.
Prosecutors changed their stance, saying the knife was irrelevant because Miller and Nero arrested Gray before they found the knife.
Nero has been a member of the Baltimore Police Department since 2012. Before that, he was a volunteer firefighter for 10 years in New Jersey. He has been suspended with pay during the ongoing trials.
A statement from the president of Baltimore City's Fraternal Order Order of Police said the acquittal meant the officer's "nightmare is nearing an end," but he took direct aim at Mosby's handling of the case.
"Officer Nero prays that justice will serve each of the remaining officers with the same fairness that it served him," stated Lt. Gene Ryan. "He implores state's attorney Mosby to refocus her flawed analysis of the facts surrounding Mr. Gray's death and dismiss the remaining charges."
Nero was the second officer to go on trial for the killing of 25-year-old Gray.
The first officer to go on trial, William Porter, had his case end in a hung jury in December. He was charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. The jury decision set off protests and riots in the city.
Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the driver of the police van, faces the most numerous and most severe charges. Mosby said he failed to follow department procedure for placing Gray in a seat belt.
Two other officers, including Nero, also faced charges directly related to failing to use the seat belt. Defense lawyers for the officers have argued that responsibility lies with the driver.
Goodson is the next officer scheduled for trial, starting June 6. Trials for the other officers involved, including Porter's retrial, will happen between early July and mid-October.