Officer testifies for the prosecution in Freddie Gray case

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Posted: May 16, 2016 5:38 PM
Officer testifies for the prosecution in Freddie Gray case

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore police officer on Monday testified that a colleague who faces criminal charges in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray wasn't involved in the man's detention and only touched Gray after he'd been placed in handcuffs.

Officer Garrett Miller took the stand in the nonjury trial of Officer Edward Nero, who faces assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges stemming from Gray's arrest, which prosecutors say was unlawful. Miller faces identical charges.

Prosecutors also say Nero was negligent when he failed to buckle Gray into a seat belt after he, Miller and another officer slid Gray head-first onto the floor of a police transport van, handcuffed and shackled.

Miller told Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams that he alone arrested and detained Gray, and that Nero didn't touch Gray until after the man was in custody. Gray died April 19 of last year, a week after his neck was broken in the van.

Miller is awaiting trial. The state's highest court recently ruled that an officer facing charges in the Gray case, Officer William Porter, could be compelled to testify against his colleague, and Williams determined that the ruling extended to other officers in the case. The Maryland Court of Appeals has yet to release a written opinion explaining the basis for its ruling.

Miller testified Monday that he had already caught, detained and placed Gray in handcuffs when Nero made physical contact with the man for the first time, helping to prop Gray up after he asked for an inhaler. Miller said Nero touched Gray only once more, when he assisted Miller and Lt. Brian Rice, another officer charged in the case, in lifting Gray, who was screaming and refusing to cooperate with officers, back into the van after Rice and Miller had taken him out of the compartment and shackled his feet.

Nero grabbed the man's feet, Miller said, while he and Rice lifted his torso. But Nero didn't help put Gray in plastic cuffs or leg irons, Miller said.

During cross-examination, Nero's attorney Marc Zayon asked Miller why he used the word "we" when describing the arrest to investigators last April.

"Because we did everything together," Miller said of Nero. "It was a wording question, to be all-inclusive."

But when Zayon asked directly who apprehended Gray and placed him in handcuffs Miller was adamant that he acted alone.

"That was me," he said.

Miller was the state's final witness in the case. Prosecutors finished presenting their case to the judge Monday afternoon.

On Friday, prosecutors played a videotaped statement Nero made to police investigators shortly after Gray's arrest. Nero told them that he and Miller worked together to apprehend Gray, which prosecutors said showed that Nero was partially responsible for the arrest.

On the morning of April 12, Gray took off running after making eye contact with Rice, who then called over a police radio that he needed backup for a foot chase. Nero and Miller responded. But prosecutors say once Gray surrendered, the officers should have made an effort to find out why Rice was chasing him in the first place, and had no basis or probable cause to arrest him.

The assault and misconduct charges Nero faces stem from Gray's arrest, while the reckless endangerment charge stems from the officers' failure the buckle Gray into a seat belt. Nero's attorney, Marc Zayon, has argued that Nero wasn't involved in Gray's arrest, and that it's the wagon driver's responsibility to make sure a prisoner is secure inside the van.

Miller's testimony bolstered Nero's defense by confirming the officer's limited contact with Gray. But during direct examination, Miller did concede that although Gray was uncooperative, screaming and shaking the van, he did not pose a threat to the officers.

As to why the officers chose to transport Gray to Western District headquarters rather to central booking to be processed — a choice prosecutors say implies that the officers knew Gray's arrest was questionable — Miller testified that suspects are typically first taken to the station house to be debriefed about crime in the area.

After the state rested its case, Zayon asked Williams to acquit Nero of all charges. Williams denied the request.

Additional defense witnesses will take the stand Tuesday.