Rev. Westley West, attorney Billy Murphy and others react to the verdict in the Officer Edward Nero trial. (Jerry Jackson and Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun video)
In parts of the city that erupted in rioting last year over the death of Freddie Gray, the response to the first verdict in the trial of an officer charged in the case was measured.
"I kind of knew it was going to happen," said Mike Smith, 51, a limousine driver waiting who was in the Penn-North area when he heard that Officer Edward Nero was found not guilty on four charges stemming from his role in the chase and arrest of Gray.
The Woodbrook resident was waiting to pick his car up from a shop in the area, which on Monday drew a handful of media and police because it had been a focal point for looting and burning during the April 27, 2015, riot. But on this day, the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues was just its usual hive of pedestrians, shoppers and commuters catching buses or the subway.
Smith described himself as "kind of angry" but seemed mostly resigned — for now.
"It's not right," Smith said, who will be watching to see what happens as the other five officers have their day in court. "They're stringing it out longer and longer. The public is going to get angrier and angrier."
Activists against alleged police brutality said Monday that the fight for reform is bigger than any one ruling.
"The Nero verdict is a reminder that we must continue to push for policies and laws related to the police department that explicitly call for the preservation of life and that have clear lines of accountability," said DeRay Mckesson, a Black Lives Matter activist and former candidate for Baltimore mayor.
For Mckesson, reached as he traveled to a speaking engagement out of town, Judge Barry Williams' verdict was "disappointing but not unexpected." Still, he added, "I am reminded that this is one of six trials as we seek accountability for the death of Freddie Gray."
The focus now turns to the June 6 trial of Officer Caesar Goodson, the driver of the van in which Gray was critically injured while being transported in shackles but without a seat belt.
"That's whose fault it is," said Michael Falcon, 57, of East Baltimore. "They should've strapped him down."
As he fixed a flat bicycle tire for a friend on a stoop in Gilmor Homes, the public housing complex where Gray ran from officers, Falcon said he couldn't predict what would happen if subsequent officers were similarly found not guilty.
"I don't know," he said. "He had a lot of friends out here. That's all I can tell you."
Darren Cole, 45, who lives in Sandtown-Winchester and volunteers at the Penn-North Kids Safety Zone, said he has been following Nero's trial and agreed with the verdict. "He didn't do nothing but help the man," Cole said.
Groups including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said the verdict highlights the difficulty in holding police accountable.
"While the court found Officer Nero not guilty of any criminal liability, his trial like those of the others associated with the death of Freddie Gray has finally laid bare the long-standing problem in Baltimore of police stops of African-American men withoutreasonable suspicion or probable cause," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the group.
Ifill noted that the U.S. Department of Justice is still investigating the police department.
Political leaders urged residents to respect the verdict, stressing that Nero still faces an internal review. Billy Murphy, the attorney who represents Gray's family and won them a $6.4 million civil settlement from the city, said he was proud of Williams and asked residents to be "calm and patient."
That offended Kevin Moore, a friend of Gray's who took a widely viewed cellphone video of his arrest. "Why should we not be upset?" he asked. "Is this not a reason to be upset?"
That Nero was found not guilty and Officer William Porter's case previously ended in a mistrial — he will be retried in September — "weighs extra heavy on me," Moore said. The "flawed" system favors police, he said.
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As he's done from the start, Lt. Gene Ryan, head of the city police union, offered a full-throated defense of Nero and the other officers while accusing State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby of political reasons for filing criminal charges against them in the first place.
"Being charged with a crime, and being prosecuted for reasons that have nothing to do with justice, is a horror that no person should have to endure," Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said on the union's Twitter account. "None of these Officers did anything wrong."
U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings acknowledged "the strong emotions" Gray's death spawned, and called on Baltimoreans to focus on healing their city and trusting in the judicial system.
"Justice has always relied on trust in the judicial process, and that is what I call on all of Baltimore's residents to do because there will be more trials in the death of Mr. Freddie Gray," he said. "We cannot control the outcome of any of these trials, but what we can control is our work to continue healing our community."
Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.