One of the six officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray was found not guilty on all counts in Baltimore on Monday.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams cleared Officer Edward Nero of charges of assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.
On Monday, chants of “No justice, no peace. Jail to the police,” could be heard outside of the courthouse after the verdict was read. Protesters continued chanting a Nero's family as authorities escorted them past the gathering, and backlash on social media was swift.
Nero, 30, was one of two officers who initially made eye contact with Gray before his arrest. Gray, 25, died on April 19, 2015, a week after his neck was broken while he was transported in a police van — shackled and handcuffed, but without a seat belt.
Nero faced charges of assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.
Nero’s attorney, Marc Zayon, said in a statement that his client was “elated” by the verdict. “Officer Nero is appreciative of the reasoned judgment that Judge Barry Williams applied in his ruling,” the statement said. “Officer Nero remains a proud member of the Baltimore Police Department and looks forward to serving the City and the people of Baltimore.”
In a statement, the NAACP didn’t denounce the verdict but said it “awaits(s) justice for Freddie Gray.”
“As we continue to watch the legal process unfold and as the trials of other officers commence, we urge the community to let their voices be heard in nonviolent protest as we seek justice for a violent death,” the civil rights group said.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Monday said city officials were ready to respond if any disturbances broke out in the city.
“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,” Rawlings-Blake said. She added that Nero was facing a review at the Baltimore Police Department.
The Baltimore Police Department said in a statement that Nero would remain on administrative duties until completion of the investigation, which is being handled by other police departments. The review won’t be completed until the cases against all six officers come to a close, the statement said.
Grays's death set off more than a week of protests in Baltimore, which eventually led to unrest and the implementation of a six-day curfew across the city. The events also refocused national attention on issues of tensions between law enforcement and the minority communities they serve.
The White House waded into the fray with President Barack Obama commenting both on the unrest and broader racial tensions.
State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges against the six officers involved in Gray's arrest in early May, 2015.
Prosecutors fought for Nero and two of the other officers be tried together, but their request was denied. Nero opted for a bench trial as opposed to a trial by jury.
While prosecutors argued that Nero arrested Gray without probable cause and was negligent when he didn't buckle Gray into the van, a defense attorney said Nero didn't arrest Gray and it was the responsibility of the driver to buckle Gray in.
The defense also argued that the officers who responded that day acted responsibly. Gray was charged after his arrest with possession of a switchblade.
Nero is the second officer to stand trial. Officer William Porter's manslaughter trial ended with a hung jury.
Prosecutors have sought to compel his testimony in the trials of the other officers, by giving him a form of legal immunity, but Porter argued that would violate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
On Friday, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Porter had to testify.
“We hold that the State’s compelling Officer Porter to testify in the trials of his fellow officers, under the grant of use and derivative use immunity, does not violate Officer Porter’s privilege against compelled self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 22 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights,” the court wrote.
The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police in a statement said they are "relieved that, for him this nightmare is coming to an end." The organization was deeply critical of what they called Mosby's "flawed analysis" of the Freddie Gray case.
"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 have to endure," the organization wrote in a statement.