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Officer Edward Nero trial: Day 1 recap

What happened on Day 1?

Opening statements

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Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow told Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams that officers pursued Freddie Gray through Gilmor Homes in West Baltimore after a supervisor, Lt. Brian Rice, radioed that he was engaged in a chase. All they knew, Schatzow said, was that Gray was being sought — but not why — when they handcuffed and searched him. Those were not grounds for an arrest, he said.

Attorneys for Officer Edward Nero sought Thursday to minimize his role in the arrest of Gray, saying that he pursued the 25-year-old based on a supervisor's calls for help and only touched him to try to find his inhaler.

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Defense attorney Marc Zayon said his client had a limited role. Rice was out of Nero's view when he called out over the radio that he was involved in a pursuit, and Officer Garrett Miller was the one who caught and handcuffed Gray, Zayon said. Miller was in control, at one point asking Nero to retrieve his bike from a few blocks away.

Prosecutors argued that the officers who detained Gray on April 12, 2015 lacked legal justification to do so, making his arrest an assault.

To prove Nero committed an assault, Zayon said, prosecutors need to show "unconsented touching." And Nero, a trained EMT, only searched Gray after he asked for an inhaler, Zayon said.

Zayon, in his opening statements, said the officers were backed by legal precedent that allows for chasing and detaining someone who is fleeing in a high-crime area. He noted that the officers were patrolling the area after receiving a directive from "a designee of Marilyn Mosby, the State's Attorney of Baltimore City" to step up enforcement due to citizen complaints of open air drug dealing.

Terry stops

Schatzow referred to "Terry stops," the phrase used to describe a 1968 Supreme Court decision that held that officers can briefly detain someone if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the person has been involved in a crime. Schatzow said Nero and Miller "did nothing that Terry requires, and did things Terry does not allow" by not trying to find out why Gray was being pursued.

Witnesses

Eight witnesses were called during the first day of testimony, with prosecutors laying some of the same groundwork regarding police policies and training that they presented to a jury last December in the trial of Officer William Porter, which ended with a hung jury.

State and police

Prosecutors sought to show that the Police Department was focused on improving safety in arrest vans. It paid extra to outfit the vehicles with seat belts, performed audits to make sure they were being used, and just days before Gray's arrest issued a new rule requiring that officers always secure detainees with seat belts.

But police officials didn't always back prosecutors' contentions. Capt. Martin Bartness, who was involved in the drafting of the order, testified that officers always retain overarching discretion to make decisions based on circumstances.

The officer who performed the audits in 2014, Detective Edward Bailey, testified that he checked van drivers for compliance with the rules, because it was the driver's responsibility to belt detainees.

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Training instructor Adam Long, who taught cadets how to safely seat-belt detainees, also backed the idea that the "wagon man" takes control once an arrest is made. But, under questioning from Zayon, he maintained that detainees shouldn't be left unsecured even if they are combative.

Zayon noted that department policies were employment rules, not state laws. He said officers fear that detainees will head-butt or spit on them, and said an unruly crowd was gathering as Gray was being arrested.

But Schatzow said Nero "needlessly risked Mr. Gray's life, and thereby ignored his duty to keep him safe" by not securing him. He said Nero was in no danger from Gray, but simply didn't care.

What is Nero charged with? 

Nero is not charged in Gray's death, but is accused of putting him into a dangerous situation. The judge has limited discussion in Nero's case about the extent of Gray's injuries, after defense attorneys argued that reckless endangerment only requires prosecutors to show the conduct was risky, and not necessarily what resulted.

Nero, 30, is charged with second-degree assault and misconduct related to Gray's arrest, and reckless endangerment and a second count of misconduct stemming from the way Gray was loaded into the van.

The trial, which could last five days, also involves allegations that Nero failed to care for Gray when he did not secure him with a seat belt in the back of the arrest van, where Gray ultimately suffered a fatal spine injury.

Legal analysis

Legal observers have said the case is expected to involve complex arguments about the authority of officers to stop citizens.

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