Other Voices

Freddie Gray case threatened integrity of the justice system

John Nero, center left, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray
John Nero, center left, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray AP

After hearing the verdict of not guilty late last month, Baltimore police officer Edward Nero, according to news reports, cleared tears from his eyes, undoubtedly relieved to have successfully dodged the machinations of a rogue, bullish prosecutor with political ambitions.

Nero, 30, had been accused of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office in the well-documented case of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who died in April 2015 from injuries sustained while riding in the back of a police transport van.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Barry Williams said there were no “credible facts” to find the officer guilty of the charges against him.

Nero was not the only relieved law enforcement officer.

Nothing more threatens the health and safety of every community across the nation, including ours in Fort Worth, than overzealous prosecutors, such as Baltimore City State Attorney Marilyn Mosby, apparently attempting to accrue points with special interest groups for a political payday down the road.

Police officers should be held accountable by the law. No one is above the law, including — no, make that especially — police officers.

But what happened in Baltimore is a threat to the integrity of our system of justice, not to mention the lives of officers, who every day willingly enter dangerous places to ensure that communities and neighborhoods are livable and functional.

The officers charged in Baltimore were doing their job, a job that, oddly enough, Mosby had asked to be ramped up in the high-crime area known to include rampant drug trade. It was on a corner in that neighborhood that Gray encountered police, who chased after him when he fled on foot.

Prosecutors alleged that Nero, a bicycle officer, committed an assault by detaining Gray without justification, even though a number of court precedents have affirmed officers’ legal right to chase a suspect in “high-crime” areas and detain him or her while they confirm or dismiss suspicions.

Prosecutors said Nero’s role in putting Gray into the wagon without buckling a seat belt amounted to reckless endangerment.

Another officer, Garrett Miller, one of four others yet to face charges, testified that he alone had apprehended Gray, while Nero went back to retrieve their bicycles.

“There has been no information presented at this trial that the defendant intended for any crime to happen, nor has there been any evidence presented that the defendant communicated any information to a primary actor that he was ready, willing and able to lend support if needed to any crime,” Williams said.

In total, six officers have been charged in the case. Nero was the second to face trial. The first ended in a hung jury.

As it related to Nero, legal observers called the prosecutor’s theories “novel,” “radical” and “unprecedented.”

It’s not difficult to understand those critiques: She ignored the facts.

Instead of an objective examination of the evidence, she appeared to proceed as if to prosecute the case to fit a narrative she either wanted to believe or was coerced to believe under pressure from special interest groups.

In announcing the charges last year, Mosby dubiously told black youth of Baltimore, “This is your moment… You’re at the forefront of this cause… Our time is now.”

This is not consistent in protecting the public interest.

The great “cause” of the American judicial system is to ensure that truth is uncovered and justice is done according to the evidence of the case. That’s the sworn duty of the prosecutor.

“I hope that as we move forward with this case everyone will respect due process and refrain from doing anything that would jeopardize our ability to seek justice,” Mosby said last year.

Ironically, justice was put in jeopardy by Mosby, who didn’t even realize that the knife found on Gray, while legal under state law, was not permissible under city code.

Mosby didn’t even attend the reading of Nero’s verdict.

Like police officers, the work of prosecutors is serious business that requires professionals committed to the highest standards of ethics and integrity.

Not to mention justice.

Rick Van Houten is a sergeant in the Fort Worth Police Department and president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.