Officer training questioned in second trial of police charged in Freddie Gray's death

Officer Edward Nero’s trial got off to a swift start Thursday morning in Downtown Baltimore, with lawyers for both sides making opening statements, and prosecutors calling five witnesses before breaking for lunch.

Nero, the second officer to be tried in death of Freddie Gray, opted for a bench trial over a jury trial which means his case will be solely decided by Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams. Williams also presided over Officer William Porter’s trial, which ended with a hung jury and was declared a mistrial in Dec. 2015.

In court, prosecutors made the case that Nero wasn’t following proper policy when he arrested Freddie Gray on April 12, 2015.

Their plan was to “arrest him and then determine whether or not to un-arrest him,” Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow told the judge.

He went on to argue that “the defendant knew that it was his duty to ensure the safety of Mr. Gray.” He pointed out that police had updated policy earlier that month, mandating that officers put the suspects that they were transporting in seatbelts.

Officers are notified of changes in policy via email, and Schatzow said that Nero knew this, and had been actively using his police email.

“Mr. Gray was put in a risky and dangerous position,” he said.

Using a map, Schatzow outlined the path that Gray took inside the police van.

Nero’s lawyer, Marc Zayon, said that his client had worked as a volunteer firefighter and EMT before joining the force, because he was dedicated to saving lives. He said that Nero “fell in love with the city of Baltimore,” and that’s why he chose to work here.

He called Gray’s death an “unfortunate incident,” noting that his client was never aware of any change in policy.

“He simply did not know that the seatbelt change occurred,” Zayon said.

He also argued that Nero only touched Gray once during the arrest – to lift him up to help him look for his inhaler.

“Everything that was done, was done correctly,” he said.

Zayon insisted that it would have been impossible for a police officer to seatbelt Gray into the van because Gray was actively resisting arrest – kicking and shaking the wagon.

“It’s easy to sit here and…parse out this event,” he said. However, for Nero “officer safety is ‘do I get home at night to see my wife and kids.’”

During the cross-examination of Andrew Jaffee, the Director of New Information Technology, Zayon built the case that it would have been easy for Nero to miss an email alerting him to the change in policy.

Jaffee could confirm that the email, which went out to all Baltimore Police Officers, was received by Nero. He could not, however, confirm that Nero had opened it.

Zayon asked if officers could get a variety of emails, some not as important – for example, emails about baby announcements and fundraisers – or more important, such as information about police policy. Could an officer get as many as 40 or 50 emails a day?, Zayon asked. “It’s a possibility,” Jaffee responded.

Zayon insisted that it would have been impossible for a police officer to seatbelt Gray into the van because Gray was actively resisting arrest – kicking and shaking the wagon.

The final witness of the day was Officer Adam Long, who is a Defense Tactical Instructor at the Baltimore City Department's training academy.

Long said he has worked for the department for 21 years, both as an officer on the streets and as an instructor. He taught Nero when he was at the academy and said part of the curriculum includes learning how to safely transport suspects in police vehicles--and that includes making sure they are secured with a seatbelt.

In court, Long demonstrated how he typically trained officers on how to put suspects in their seatbelts, using Deputy State's AttorneyJanice Bledsoe as a suspect and a chair as a police vehicle. 

Court proceedings were expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Copyright © 2017, Baltimore City Paper, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Privacy Policy
48°