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The long road to justice for Freddie Gray

The Nero trial is just one step in the long road to justice for Freddie Gray.

As Baltimoreans consider how to react to the not-guilty verdict against Officer Edward Nero on charges related to his involvement in Freddie Gray's arrest, it's worth remembering what the Gray family has said at every step of the way since Mr. Nero and five of his colleagues were indicted a year ago. They have consistently said that what they want is not necessarily a guilty verdict but the justice Freddie Gray was denied. The issue was not whether a particular officer would be convicted on a particular charge but whether the questions of guilt or innocence would be considered fairly and in the full due process the law requires. Clearly, that is what happened in this case.

We understand that some will be discouraged or read this verdict as a sign that none of the officers will be held legally accountable for Gray's death. But what the trial against Mr. Nero and the mistrial of Officer William Porter underscored was that the six officers indicted in this case all played different roles in the circumstances surrounding Gray's fatal injury in the back of a police van. The legal and factual issues in all the cases are different — that's why we have six different trials and not just one. Mr. Nero's involvement was less extensive than that of some other officers, as is reflected by the evidence presented in his trial and the gravity of the charges he faced, all of which were misdemeanors. The disposition of his case by Judge Barry Williams doesn't necessarily say anything about how the others will play out.

Indeed, in announcing his verdict, Judge Williams made clear that he was speaking to the specific circumstances of Mr. Nero's case and his role in Freddie Gray's arrest and nothing more. He cited testimony of another officer who will later face charges, Garrett Miller, that he, nor Officer Nero, was solely responsible for the arrest and handcuffing of Gray, and he said that Officer Nero could have assumed that either of two other officers, Lt. Brian Rice, who was his supervisor, or Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., who was driving the van, would have seat-belted Gray. Thus, the fact that Judge Williams found that Officer Nero had acted in the manner that a reasonable officer would have done does not indicate whether the same can be said of the rest of the defendants.

Many have second-guessed State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's decision to bring relatively aggressive charges against all six officers, but the fact that her deputies were unsuccessful in this case doesn't prove her approach wrong. Both the first trial against Officer Porter and this one featured vigorous performances by both the prosecution and defense. On both occasions, Judge Williams denied defense motions to throw out the charges after the prosecution finished presenting its case. And both have brought to light a fuller picture of what happened that day to Gray and what happens every day in the Baltimore City Police Department.

Come what may in the next five trials, it is clear that the city police must become a different department than it was the day Freddie Gray was arrested. Both trials have featured testimony from city officers damning their department as a place where training is haphazard, standards are loosely applied or ignored and young officers are thrust into situations for which they are not prepared. The Department of Justice is still conducting is probe into the civil rights record of the department, and we have every reason to expect that it will demand significant reforms. Fortunately, the city's new police commissioner, Kevin Davis, who took over in the aftermath of Gray's death and the subsequent unrest, has a track record of implementing similar reforms during his time in Prince George's County. He and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have taken steps on their own as well, such as the approval in February of a contract to put video cameras inside police vans like the one in which Gray was injured.

The road to justice for Freddie Gray will be a long one, and what happened in Judge Williams' courtroom today was just one small step. If Gray's family has the faith and patience to see the process through, so must we all.

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