The trial of Officer Edward Nero in the arrest of Freddie Gray is set to begin Thursday.
Nero is charged with second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office, all related to his role in Gray’s initial detention and arrest. He has elected to have a bench trial rather than a jury trial, leaving his legal fate in the hands of Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams.
Gray, 25, suffered severe spinal cord injuries while in the back of the van, prosecutors say, and died a week later. Nero is one of six Baltimore police officers charged in Gray’s arrest and death.
Nero’s trial will focus on whether he was legally justified in helping to stop Gray before officers found a knife clipped to his pants pocket on April 12, 2015 in West Baltimore, and whether he was reckless in allowing Gray to be taken from the scene while unrestrained by a seat belt in the back of a police transport van.
Only one other officer, William Porter, has gone to trial — resulting in a mistrial after a jury could not reach a consensus on any of the four charges against him in December.
Officer Edward Nero, a former New Jersey volunteer firefighter who joined the Baltimore Police Department in 2012, is one of three officers who were on bike patrol when they chased and arrested Gray. He is on paid administrative duty with the police force, per policy, because his charges are misdemeanors. His police powers have been suspended.
Michael Schatzow, the second-highest ranking prosecutor in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, and Janice Bledsoe, who oversees police misconduct investigations, are leading Nero’s prosecution. Schatzow is a former federal prosecutor and longtime white collar lawyer, while Bledsoe is a former defense attorney who briefly led police misconduct investigations under former State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein.
The defense attorneys
Marc L. Zayon is a former Baltimore County State’s Attorney who has handled several high-profile cases as a defense attorney, including a city police officer accused of raping a woman at a police station whose charges were eventually dropped.
Allison R. Levine, who works in Zayon’s practice, has worked on cases including medical malpractice and personal injury.
Barry G. Williams has been a Circuit Court judge since 2005, following a career as an assistant city state’s attorney and a special litigation counsel with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, a role in which he traveled the country trying federal police misconduct cases.
Second-degree assault carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Reckless endangerment carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Misconduct in office does not carry a set term limit. All charges are misdemeanors.