Baltimore (Talk Media News) – Chanting “no justice, no peace — jail killer police,” dozens of protesters took to the streets outside a Baltimore courthouse Monday after a judge found a city police officer charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray not guilty on all counts.
The protests – which remained peaceful, in sharp contrast to the rioting that tore apart the city after Gray’s death in police custody last year — came after Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams’ ruling in the bench trial of Officer Edward Nero.
Nero, 30, had faced misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office.
“It really is a sad day for Baltimore,” said Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP. “Freddie was fine until police stopped him, and they had no reason to arrest him. Unfortunately, unless the police get their act together, we could have another young person lost.”
Hill-Aston predicted an “emotional” response to the verdict, but called for restraint.
“We need to be calm,” she said. “We can have protests. We can march. I applaud that. But we don’t want anybody to get hurt, locked up or chased by police, and we don’t want any problems.”
Gray, a 25-year-old black man, suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody in April 2015. His death ignited widespread protests, arson, looting and rioting across the city, prompting Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to call in the National Guard. Gray became a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality.
Nero and two other officers who have been charged are white; three are black.
On Monday, protesters said police brutality against blacks in Baltimore remains rampant, and some said the verdict cast doubt on whether any of the other five city police officers charged in Gray’s arrest and death would be convicted.
Things got testy for a bit Monday when Nero and his family left the courthouse by a side door, prompting protesters to chase them down the street. Sheriff’s deputies ordered protesters and journalists out of the street and shoved some of them, including this reporter.
The protest continued momentarily in a hospital’s parking garage.
There, Mike Matthews, a freelance illustrator from Baltimore, said: “I didn’t feel like justice was done. Somebody should be found guilty for his death.”
Wesley West, a black activist and the 28-year-old pastor of Empowered Ministries in Baltimore near the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in West Baltimore where Gray lived and was arrested in April 2015, had led regular protests over Gray’s death.
“To let the officer walk freely, it troubles me,” West said. “To see that with my own eyes, to see that in person really angers me. What happens now is I’m going to continue to protest, to make my voice heard until justice is served. I don’t see any changes.”
Lee Patterson, 61, of East Baltimore, said the verdict underscores what he called routine police brutality against blacks that goes unpunished.
“No justice was served,” Patterson said. “In fact, a target has been placed on the back of every black youth in this city. It’s time for this apartheid to stop in this city. Police killings are racist apartheid. It’s time for the paradigm to change. We will do it by every means necessary. Cops are not peaceable. Why should we be peaceable?
“I don’t need ‘we shall overcome.’ I think we should overthrow. I hope there is more unrest.”
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake warned the city would respond quickly and decisively to any unrest and urged patience as the legal system plays out.
“This is our American system of justice, and police officers must be afforded the same justice system as every other citizen in this city, state and country,” the mayor said in a statement. “We once again ask the citizens to be patient and to allow the entire process to come to a conclusion. In the case of any disturbance in the city, we are prepared to respond. We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city.”
Inside the packed courtroom, Williams outlined each of the state’s charges during a 30-minute proceeding.
“The state’s theory has been one of recklessness and negligence,” he said. “There has been no evidence that the defendant intended for a crime to occur.”
After Williams delivered his verdicts, Nero embraced his lawyers and wiped away tears.
Nero’s attorneys, Marc Zayon and Allison Levine, said the officer and his family “are elated that this nightmare is finally over.”
“The State’s Attorney for Baltimore City rushed to charge him, as well as the other five officers, completely disregarding the facts of the case and the applicable law,” Zayon and Allison Levine said in a statement. “His hope is that the State’s Attorney will re-evaluate the remaining five officers’ cases and dismiss their charges. Like Officer Nero, these officers have done nothing wrong.”
Prosecutors, bound by a gag order, did not comment.
Lt. Gene Ryan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, took aim at city State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, saying she charged the six officers in response to the riots and, in doing so, “destroyed six lives.”
“None of these officers did anything wrong,” Ryan said in a statement. “Officer Nero is relieved that for him, this nightmare is nearing an end. Being falsely charged with a crime, and being prosecuted for reasons that have nothing to do with justice, is a horror that no person should ever have to endure.”
Billy Murphy, the attorney representing Gray’s family, said Williams scrutinized the evidence and ruled fairly in the case without “bowing to public pressure,” adding Nero’s guilt had not been proved beyond a “reasonable doubt.”
Murphy, who won a $6.4 million settlement from the city for the Gray family, noted five other officers await trial.
“Justice doesn’t have the words ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ attached to it,” he said. “What matters is fairness and ruling according to the law.”