A white Baltimore police officer went on trial on Thursday on charges stemming the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died from injuries while in police custody, with a prosecutor arguing that he failed to follow department procedures.
But a lawyer for the officer, Edward Nero, contended that he had little to do with Gray's arrest and transport in a police van. Gray, 25, died in April 2015 from a broken neck suffered in the vehicle.
Nero, a 30-year-old former volunteer firefighter, is the second officer to face trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court in connection with Gray's death.
The death sparked rioting and protests across the majority-black city of 620,000 people. The incident is one of those highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Prosecutor Michael Schatzow said in opening arguments that Nero, among three bicycle officers who chased and arrested Gray when he fled unprovoked, had no idea why Gray was being pursued.
That made his arrest illegal, Schatzov said. Court papers say officers found a spring-assisted knife in Gray's pocket.
Nero and a second white officer, Garrett Miller, planned to arrest Gray and then determine what to charge him with, Schatzow told Judge Barry Williams, who is presiding over a bench trial.
Nero failed to secure Gray in the van despite a department memo a few days before the incident underscoring that detainees had to be seat-belted, Schatzow said.
But Marc Zayon, Nero's lawyer, said Miller had made the arrest and handcuffed Gray, with Nero never putting hands on him except to help. Nero also tried to find Gray's asthma inhaler when he asked for it, Zayon said.
Nero had no responsibility to ensure that Gray was secured in the van. That was the duty of Miller and the van driver, African American officer Caesar Goodson Jr, Zayon said.
"Evidence will show that Mr. Gray was passively and actively resisting arrest," making it impossible for him to be belted in, he said.
Nero is charged with second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. All are misdemeanors.
Five other officers face charges, ranging from misconduct in office to second-degree murder. Williams has said the trial could run through at least Wednesday.
The first trial, that of African American officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury in December. Porter and Miller are expected to be called as prosecution witnesses.