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 non-jury 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 testified with immunity, meaning nothing he said can be used against him when he stands trial in July on the same charges as Nero. The state's highest court recently ruled that officers facing charges in the Gray case can be compelled to testify against each other.
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 flexicuffs or leg irons, Miller said.
Miller was the state's final witness in the case. Prosecutors rested Monday afternoon.
Judge Williams denied a defense motion to dismiss all four charges against Nero. The defense said prosecutors have not proven its case against him, but the judge said the law requires him to view the evidence in a light most favorable to the state at this point.
"It's absurd that he's sitting there fighting for his freedom all because he joined in a chase," legal analyst Warren Brown said.
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.
"I think that Officer did a great job on behalf of the defense," legal expert Warren Alperstein said.
Nero 's defense is he acted reasonably using his discretion not to belt Gray because Gray could have attacked, but during direct examination, Miller conceded that although Gray was uncooperative, screaming and shaking the van, he did not pose a threat to the officers.
"He didn't resist, he's isn't yelling, he didn't cuss, he didn't spit," NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston said. "He stood there and did exactly what they asked him to do."
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.
Earlier on Monday, prosecutors called Dr. Carol Allan, the assistant medical examiner who performed Gray's autopsy, to testify. She spent only minutes on the stand — just long enough to enter into evidence a copy of Gray's autopsy report.
The state also called Dr. Joseph McGowan, an expert witness in bio-engineering, who testified that Gray's fatal injury would have been prevented if the man had been strapped in a seat belt.