Baltimore police officer cleared over Freddie Gray death in custody`

A Baltimore judge has acquitted police officer Edward Nero in the 2015 death of black detainee Freddie Gray.
Baltimore police officer Edward Nero (centre) leaves the courthouse after being acquitted of all charges in the death of Freddie Gray on Monday (May 23).
Baltimore police officer Edward Nero (centre) leaves the courthouse after being acquitted of all charges in the death of Freddie Gray on Monday (May 23). PHOTO: EPA

BALTIMORE, Maryland(AFP) - A Baltimore police officer was cleared Monday of all charges in the case of Freddie Gray, an African American who died in custody last year, sparking riots and fuelling a nationwide debate about US police brutality.

The verdict handed down by a Baltimore judge found Officer Edward Nero not guilty of second-degree assault, of reckless endangerment or of misconduct in office.

Outside the courthouse, a crowd of about a dozen protesters greeted the verdict with chants of "No Justice, No Peace." The 25-year-old Gray was picked up on April 12, 2015 after fleeing at the sight of police, and suffered a snapped spine while being transported unrestrained in the back of a Baltimore police van. He died a week later.

The six police officers being tried over his death - three white and three African Americans, including a woman - claim it was an accident.

Nero's is the second case to come to court. The first ended in a hung jury.

The 30-year-old officer - who is white - chose to be tried by a judge rather than by a jury. The judge in the case was black, as are two-thirds of the people of Baltimore, including its Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The mayor acknowledged the verdict, saying it would be followed by a police review and urging citizens to let the process run its course.

"This is our American system of justice and police officers must be afforded the same justice system as every other citizen in this city, state and country," she said in a statement.

"Now that the criminal case has come to an end, Officer Nero will face an administrative review by the Police Department.

"We once again ask the citizens to be patient and to allow the entire process to come to a conclusion. In the case of any disturbance in the city, we are prepared to respond."