Prosecution seeks to put Officer Edward Nero at center of Freddie Gray's arrest

Prosecutors used Officer Nero's own statement to put him at center of Freddie Gray's arrest

Prosecutors spent much of the second day of Officer Edward Nero's trial trying to prove he was directly involved in Freddie Gray's detention and arrest — at times using Nero's own statement to police investigators.

At one point Friday, Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow read from a transcript of Nero's statement.

"I then see Officer [Garrett] Miller chasing the other suspect, and Officer Miller at this time is now on foot," Nero said, according to Schatzow. "He has his Taser in his hand. He's saying, 'Stop or I'm going to tase you.'

"He never tases him. I guess the suspect seen me. He then — he then stops. He looked like he kind of like slipped. I don't know what he did, but either way he stopped."

"Miller and I, we got him in custody. Miller took out his cuffs; he cuffs him."

Schatzow then asked expert witness Neill Franklin for his assessment.

"It is consistent with that of a joint arrest," said Franklin, a former training director for the Baltimore Police Department. "They both played an active role in seizing the suspect they were chasing."

Nero's account of the arrest had never before been heard publicly. His attorneys have tried to distance him from the arrest, saying he played only a secondary role. Prosecutors have tried to hang two of four charges — second-degree assault and misconduct in office — on Nero's involvement in the stop.

It was one of few revealing moments in a trial that thus far has tracked closely with that of Officer William Porter, the first of the six police officers to go on trial in Gray's arrest and death.

Porter's trial in December ended in a mistrial after the 12-member jury failed to reach a consensus on any of the four charges against him.

Nero, 30, has opted for a bench trial, meaning Judge Barry G. Williams will decide his fate on the four charges he faces. In addition to second-degree assault, he is accused of reckless endangerment and a second count of misconduct in office for allegedly failing to secure Gray in a police van with a seat belt.

Gray, 25, died last April after suffering a spine injury in police custody. His death sparked widespread protests. On the day of his funeral, the city erupted in riots, looting and arson.

Prosecutors also played a video of Nero's interview with detectives. The officer described Gray's arrest and placing him in the van. Nero said he and Miller called for additional units and he retrieved Miller's bike, which he had ditched after the chase.

"We then just continued to hold. We had the suspect in custody," Nero told detectives. He said he relied on his experience as an EMT to assess Gray.

"I was continuing to monitor to make sure he was OK. That he wasn't having any kind of gasping or anything like that. He was all right," Nero said.

At one point, Nero said, Gray asked for an asthma inhaler, but he didn't have one.

Gray "wasn't screaming in pain," Nero told detectives. "He was just making, like, he was trying to attract people to come out. He wasn't saying 'I can't breathe,' he wasn't saying anything like that, except that one time where he said 'I need my inhaler.' We asked him if he had it, he didn't have it."

A detective asked Nero if they called for help. He said they didn't because they were focused on getting him "out of the scene," because the crowd was "quite hostile."

He said Gray became dead weight, and the officers carried him to the van.

"He kind of pitty-patters his feet," Nero said, and the officers eased him into the van on a right side bench.

"It seemed as though that he was just, he didn't want to go," Nero said.

After picking up Gray, the police van made five stops en route to the Western District police station. At the first stop, Nero said, Miller and Lt. Brian Rice took Gray out of the van, and then "we put the shackles on him."

Legal observers have been watching Nero's case closely to see how Williams rules on the charges, particularly those related to Gray's stop.

Officers say they were on routine patrol in Sandtown-Winchester last April 12 when Gray saw them and took off running. They chased him, searched him and found him in possession of a knife they say is illegal under city ordinances.

Schatzow and Nero's attorney, Marc Zayon, have sparred over whether the actions of Nero and the other officers involved in Gray's arrest were allowed under a "Terry stop." The Supreme Court has ruled that officers can detain someone briefly if they have reasonable suspicion that the person has been involved in a crime.

On the witness stand, Franklin told Schatzow that such stops should be as brief as possible.

"We're talking about the Fourth Amendment; we're talking about constitutional rights," Franklin said. "It's a traumatic event to be stopped in public, to be searched in public, and it should be conducted as fast as possible."

But on cross-examination by Zayon, Franklin conceded that the appropriateness of an officer's actions depend on the circumstances of the stop, which may vary.

Zayon then asked a barrage of questions aimed at connecting Nero's actions with what is allowed under Terry.

He asked if officers are allowed to stop a person if they have reasonable suspicion that "criminality is afoot." Franklin said they are.

He asked if officers are allowed to handcuff a person during such a stop if they believe they are a flight risk. Franklin said they are.

He asked if it would be reasonable for an officer to consider someone who had just been running from him a flight risk. Franklin said it would be.

Zayon asked if an officer making a stop based on another officer's call for help — as Nero was doing after his supervisor, Rice, called out a foot chase — could hold onto a detainee until receiving more information from the officer who requested the help.

Franklin said he could, but that he should request that information over the radio as soon as possible.

Douglas Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor, has attended the proceedings.

"The defense would always assert that Officer Nero had the discretion to do what most officers would have done," he said. "The question becomes will the judge hold the officer to a standard of reasonableness as the police orders require, or is it reasonable compared to what other officers in Baltimore city would do?"

Prosectors called two witnesses before Franklin.

Brandon Ross, 31, was one of two friends with Gray before his arrest. Det. Michael Boyd, a shootings detective who was assigned to the Baltimore Police Department's Force Investigation Team at the time of Gray's arrest, conducted the interview with Nero.

Prosecutor Janice Bledsoe had Ross talk through what he saw that morning, from the start of the police chase of Gray to the conclusion of his arrest.

Prosecutors played a silent video of Gray's arrest. Nero's attorneys had moved to block the audio.

The same footage was played with sound during Ross' testimony in Porter's trial. During that trial, both Ross and Gray's mother burst into tears at the sound of Gray's screams.

Gray's mother was not in the courtroom Friday. When the video was played without sound, there was little emotion.

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday at 9:30 a.m. Williams has said it could conclude as early as Wednesday.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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