*On Thursday, May 5, the second trial related to the death of Freddie Gray opened in a Baltimore courtroom, almost exactly one year after Baltimore Police Officer Edward Nero was arrested. Unlike some of the other officers charged over Gray’s death, Nero only faces misdemeanor charges, including second-degree assault, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment.
Nero is one of the police officers who initially arrested Gray and helped put him in the police van where Gray would spend some of the final moments of his life. According to a recent NPR report, the prosecution will not try and link Nero directly to Gray’s death at the trial.
“Instead, prosecutors are expected to argue that Officer Edward Nero had no probable cause to arrest Gray — and therefore doing so amounts to assault,” reported NPR’s Jennifer Ludden. “Nero’s defense has said they can find no other case of an officer being prosecuted like that.”
At the time, Baltimore police said that Gray was arrested for possessing an illegal switchblade, but many urban news outlets, supporters, activists, and prosecutors say there was no probable cause to arrest Gray in the first place. After his arrest, other police officers are accused of giving Gray a “rough ride” in a police van that resulted in fatal spinal injuries, which they allegedly ignored until it was too late. The State’s Attorney for Baltimore Marilyn J. Mosby was hailed for her unusual decision to bring charges against the officers.
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When police came across Freddie Gray in April 2015, he fled on foot, leading to a brief chase that ended in his arrest. Michael Schatzow, the chief deputy state’s attorney for Baltimore, argued in his opening statements that the officers recklessly endangered Gray’s life and violated his Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Gray had a lengthy criminal record and was sentenced to four years in prison in February 2009 for drug possession with intent to deliver. Like the millions of Americans with a criminal record, it can be difficult to find jobs and even housing after a drug conviction or felony. The Society for Human Resource Management has found that fully 69% of employers run criminal background checks on all candidates, often looking for a history of such violations. In addition to drug-related charges, the SHRM found that the “top two convictions that are very influential in the decision not to extend a job offer are violent felonies (96%) and nonviolent felonies (74%).”
Despite Freddie Gray’s troubled past, prosecutors have said there was no legitimate reason to arrest him at all on that fateful April morning.
So far, six police officers have been charged. Officer William G. Porter, who is also black, went on trial in December on charges of involuntary manslaughter, second degree assault, and misconduct in office. That case ended in a mistrial, and legal experts say prosecutors will face an uphill battle in Nero’s trial as well.
The next trial is scheduled to start on June 6, while the sixth and final trial is scheduled for October 13, 2016.