Today’s acquittal of Baltimore Police Officer Edward Nero on all four charges brought against him for his role in the death of Freddie Gray demonstrates the difficulties in holding officers accountable for in-custody deaths of unarmed citizens. Prosecutors in this case presented arguments that Officer Nero’s arrest of Freddie Gray without probable cause was criminal. Those arguments proved insufficient to meet the legal standard for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, according to Judge Barry Williams, who rejected the state’s theory of assault and “accomplice liability.”
Monique Dixon, who serves as lead attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s (LDF) Policing Reform Campaign, recognized the toll today’s verdict must take on the Gray family. “Our hearts go out to Freddie Gray’s family,” she said. “We know that today’s acquittal and the mistrial of Officer William Porter last year are difficult to absorb. The family, like so many others, want to see accountability for the death of Freddie Gray.”
But LDF emphasized the significance of the trials in this case. “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 longstanding problem in Baltimore of police stops of African-American men without reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” says Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “That is why last year at the urging of community groups, activists, and civil rights organizations, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) opened a civil rights ‘pattern and practice’ investigation of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). We continue to await the results and note that the BPD has already begun implementing changes designed to address officer bias and stop and arrest practices.”
In May 2015, U.S. Attorney General Lynch announced that the Justice Department would investigate the Baltimore Police Department’s use-of-force, stops, searches, and arrests policies and practices to determine if there are systemic violations of constitutional and federal laws. LDF has repeatedly asked the DOJ to expand its investigation to the Baltimore School Police Force after two videotaped beatings of middle and high school students surfaced in the past several years. Last month, DOJ indicated that it would conduct a limited probe into the joint policing activities between the two police forces.
“Baseless stops and seizures and the excessive use of force are a leading contributor to the diminishing relationship between police officers and the communities they patrol,” says Angel Harris, Assistant Counsel at LDF. “It is encouraging to see a prosecutor and the federal government challenge such widespread and persistent problems, which citizens in Baltimore and communities throughout the U.S. are subjected to on a daily basis.”
Through its Policing Reform Campaign, LDF will continue to support its demands for unbiased and responsible policing practices in Baltimore and nationwide, including:
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.