BALTIMORE | A Baltimore judge on Monday refused a defense motion to acquit a police officer accused of assault and reckless endangerment in last year’s arrest and death of Freddie Gray.
Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams denied the motion after the prosecution rested in the third day of Officer Edward Nero’s trial.
Earlier Monday, prosecutors were dealt a blow when one of their witnesses, Officer Garrett Miller, testified that Officer Nero did not arrest or touch Gray during his apprehension. Officer Miller, who also faces charges in Gray’s death, was compelled by the court to testify against his fellow officer.
Asked by Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow whether he and Officer Nero apprehended Gray, Officer Miller said that he arrested the young man by himself.
His testimony contradicts a statement he gave to investigators at the time of Gray’s death in which he used the pronoun “we” in reference to the arrest. Officer Miller on Monday said that portion of his statement was a mistake.
The prosecution was at a disadvantage because it wasn’t able to interview Officer Miller before he testified, said a former prosecutor who is observing the trial.
“Miller placed Nero there, but it really hurt the state when he made it clear that Nero didn’t detain Gray,” former prosecutor Warren Alperstein said outside the courthouse. “Having heard what we heard, the state will have a difficult time convicting him.”
Officer Nero is one of six officers charged in the April 2015 arrest and death of Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died a week after his neck was broken during a ride in the back of a police van. Handcuffed and shackled, Gray was not restrained by a seat belt during the 45-minute ride.
Gray’s death and funeral sparked days of protests and riots and helped fuel the national Black Lives Matter movement.
Prosecutors charged Officer Nero with second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office for his role in Gray’s arrest and death. Last week, Officer Nero opted to have his trial be decided by Judge Williams, not a jury.
Officer Nero was on bike patrol in West Baltimore with Officer Miller and Lt. Brian Rice on April 12, 2015. The trio chased Gray after he made eye contact with one of the officers and ran.
Prosecutors say the officers were wrong to chase Gray, but Officer Nero’s attorneys have argued that they were required to do so in that high-crime area. Officer Nero’s trial began Thursday and is expected to end this week.
In his testimony Monday, Officer Miller said Officer Nero made physical contact only after Gray was apprehended and on the ground in handcuffs. He said Officer Nero supported Gray’s back after the young man complained of not being able to breathe.
Officer Miller testified that the next time he saw Officer Nero touch Gray was during a stop of the police van that was transporting Gray. At the stop, he said, Gray was taken out of the van. Officer Miller said he retrieved his handcuffs and put Gray in zip cuffs and leg shackles.
Officer Miller said he walked away to fill out a report while Officer Nero and Lt. Rice loaded Gray into the van. Officer Nero did not get into the van but carried Gray by his legs when he was put into the transport vehicle, the officer testified.
Officer Miller also is charged with assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office in the Gray case. His trial is scheduled to begin July 27.
He testified in Officer Nero’s trial after months of battles over whether any of the officers charged in Gray’s death could be forced to testify against the others.
The Maryland Court of Appeals eventually ruled that Officer Miller and Officer Brian Porter could be compelled to testify as long as their testimony is not presented as evidence in their own trials. However, they could face perjury charges if their testimony in their own trials contradicts their testimony the other trials.
Officer Porter’s trial, the first in the Gray case, ended in a hung jury in December.