Nero should never have been charged

Mosby's charges against Nero and the other cops in Gray's death are a distraction.

Baltimore City Police Officer Edward Nero was acquitted Monday on all charges he faced in connection to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Mr. Nero, who had but a tangential role in Gray's detention, should never have been charged. He committed no crime.

Certainly there have been and will continue to be cases of police misconduct. These incidents, while rare considering the overall number of police-citizen contacts, need to be highlighted and condemned. But many of the narratives being held against police are simply false.

Like the rest of us, Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City's elected state's attorney, saw an ugly video and perhaps assumed police seriously injured Gray while taking him into custody. Gray later died and there were riots in Baltimore. Once the streets were quiet, Ms. Mosby boldly took credit for bringing peace to Baltimore by charging officers who happened to be on scene before Freddie Gray was fatally injured in police custody.

The prosecutor, in her desire to achieve "justice" for Freddie Gray, wanted somebody — anybody it seems — to pay for his death. But justice doesn't work that way. And the ill-conceived effort to pin the blame on these six officers has at best distracted from and at worst exacerbated Baltimore's most pressing problems.

Ms. Mosby first claimed police had no legal justification to chase, stop, frisk, or arrest Gray. But Ms. Mosby was wrong. Her office now concedes that the pursuit of Gray, who ran from police at a drug corner, was legal. So was Gray's initial detention. This is indisputable. Ms. Mosby quietly dropped charges of illegal imprisonment, but despite clear evidence of no crime, she continued with the criminal prosecution of six officers on other charges.

We also know, based on the medical examiner's report, that Gray was fine going into the van. He went limp. And then he became uncooperative in the van. He was not seat belted. Later he was shackled and placed on the floor, where he was fatally injured. Accidents are typically a civil matter. The city paid Gray's family over $6 million. That's why we have a tort system.

Mr. Nero wasn't the arresting officer and didn't transport Gray. The case against Mr. Nero was fuzzy at best and malicious prosecution at worst. In his acquittal, Judge Barry Williams said the prosecution's main argument of accomplice liability was not "an appropriate application of the law."

Consider patients who die in surgery. Sometimes it's even the doctor's fault. But never would you see an entire operating room arrested.

What started as a case of police brutality and murder will come down to a question of timely medical care and negligence related to failure to seat belt a prisoner. Should Gray have been restrained better? Of course. But transport wagons are so cramped that there is no way to safely seat belt a non-compliant prisoner.

Let us prevent the next prisoner's death. There are safe, modern, camera-equipped prisoner transport vehicles. Replacing Baltimore's entire prisoner transport fleet would cost less than the payout to Gray's family. But Baltimore either lacks the money or leadership to invest in them.

The trouble is, the political leadership in Baltimore is more interested in votes than addressing the deeper issues of the poorest Americans. While much focus on policing concerns race, the issue in Baltimore — majority black and with a black political leadership — is more about class. Unfortunately, class, unlike race, doesn't stir people to action.

The mayor taps anger fueled by failed social policy and malign neglect. But we've never seen her or any Baltimore politician ride in a police car to see what officers see every day.

Freddie Gray was born premature to a single mother. Living in poverty, their lead infested house sometimes lacked for food and electricity. Gray, an occasional drug dealer, dropped out of school and never held a steady job. We don't bring up these facts to tarnish his memory but to point out that nobody cared about Freddie Gray until police placed him in custody. Only after more than 18 arrests and multiple convictions did he become the unwitting symbol of societal ills that put him in cuffs instead of college.

Politics and policy put Freddie on that drug corner and also gave police the task of moving him off of it. The failure of Freddie Gray is a collective failure. So why does "justice" depend on convicted police officers? Baltimore elected officials need to focus on the city's real problems, which do not take legal acrobatics to explain.

After the April riots, the murder rate doubled. Last year in Baltimore 304 black men — 131 more than in 2014 — were murdered. That's roughly one in every 220 black men aged 15 to 35 murdered in one year. Think of those odds. Americans shouldn't have live and die like this.

There are actual criminals in Baltimore. Those who pick up an illegal gun and pull the trigger to kill a fellow man. Police deal with them every day. So when criminals are seen as the victims and police are made out to be the problem, it's as if the inmates have taken over the asylum.

Peter Moskos (@petermoskos), a former Baltimore police officer, is associate professor of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of "Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District." Leon Taylor is a recently retired Baltimore City police officer.

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