Rather Than Go to Trial, Some Baltimore Cops Accept 'Minor Disciplinary Action' for Freddie Gray's Death
By Kevin Rector
Two Baltimore police officers have accepted "minor disciplinary action" for their involvement in the 2015 arrest of Freddie Gray rather than argue their cases before departmental trial boards, as they had been scheduled to do, a police union attorney confirmed Tuesday.
The discipline marks the first punishment against officers in the high-profile case, after local prosecutors failed to secure criminal convictions and federal prosecutors declined to bring charges.
It also clears the way for the officers, who were involved in the initial chase and arrest of Gray, to remain on the force.
Officers Garrett Miller and Edward Nero "believe they did not violate any of the policies, procedures or practices of the Baltimore Police Department," but "accepted the disciplinary action to move on from this unfortunate incident and continue their careers," said attorney Michael Davey, with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3.
"The most important factor in deciding to accept the disciplinary action was to ensure they continue their employment with the Baltimore Police Department so they can support themselves and their families," Davey said.
Davey would not disclose what violations were alleged by the department, or the punishments the officers accepted. He said Miller, 28, is back to full-time duty working in the Police Department's marine unit, while Nero, 31, is back to full-time work in the aviation unit.
The Baltimore Sun has previously reported that Nero and Miller faced five days suspension without pay.
Three other officers _ Officer Caesar Goodson, Lt. Brian Rice and Sgt. Alicia White _ still face trial boards, and all face possible termination. Goodson is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 30, followed by Rice on Nov. 13 and White on Dec. 5.
However, those dates are now in question, after the officers' attorneys filed a joint motion in Baltimore Circuit Court on Tuesday asking a court to delay their trial boards in light of an undisclosed meeting they allege Baltimore police officials had with police commanders from other agencies who have been identified as potential trial board chairs.
The officers' attorneys alleged city officials inappropriately met with the Prince George's County and Maryland State Police commanders in private and provided them with "some form of training despite their extensive experience in chairing administrative hearing boards" for their own agencies.
The outside commanders were identified as Capt. Cynthia Ruff and Majors Irene Burks and Robert Clark, from Prince George's County, and Capt. Peter Spaulding, of the Maryland State Police. Burks and Spaulding are the "permanent chairpersons" for trial boards in their own jurisdictions, the officers' attorneys said.
They said the Baltimore Police Department, by holding the undisclosed training, "has now brought into question the fairness of any administrative hearing board" involving the above commanders, and that those commanders should be excluded from the process.
T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, said only that police "hope to have the situation resolved quickly."
Smith declined to comment on Nero and Miller accepting their punishment, citing laws protecting personnel information. Andre Davis, the city solicitor, also declined to comment.
The punishments faced by the officers are the result of outside reviews of their actions in relation to departmental policies, conducted by police departments in Montgomery and Howard counties.
Those agencies have refused to address their findings, and have rejected requests by The Sun for documentation from their investigations under the Maryland Public Information Act.
Miller was the officer who initially arrested Gray for carrying a knife after Gray allegedly ran from officers in a high-crime area of West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, 2015. Nero arrived at the scene shortly after, and assisted with the arrest and placing Gray in the back of a police transport van.
According to local prosecutors and medical officials, Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury in the back of the van _ where he was handcuffed and had his legs shackled but was not restrained in a seat belt. He died a week later.
His death spurred widespread protests against police brutality, and his funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson and a weeklong nightly curfew. The city sustained millions of dollars in damages.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged Miller, Nero, Goodson, Rice, White and a sixth officer who was not charged administratively, William Porter, with various criminal counts in the case.
However, after Goodson _ the van driver, who faced the most serious charge of second-degree depraved heart murder _ was acquitted, and then Rice and Nero were also acquitted, all at bench trials, Mosby dropped all of the remaining charges against the other three officers.
The U.S. Department of Justice investigated and declined to file federal criminal civil rights charges in the case, saying the evidence did not support such charges.
The city paid Gray's family $6.4 million to avoid civil litigation in the case.
If the trial boards for Goodson, Rice and White proceed as scheduled, they will be open to the public _ because of a recent change to state law _ and will take place at the University of Baltimore's Learning Commons, university president Kurt Schmoke said Tuesday.
"Doing it is kind of a service to the department and to the community," Schmoke said. "We believe that this is an appropriate setting so that the public has an opportunity to see those hearings."
(The Baltimore Sun Justin Fenton contributed to this article.)
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