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Officer didn’t get to train Nero on transporting prisoners

P. Kenneth Burns

The police sergeant who trained Officer Edward Nero in the field praised him Tuesday as the defense continued its case in Nero’s trial on charges stemming from the death last year of Freddie Gray in police custody.

Sgt. Charles Sullivan described Nero as “above board” to Nero’s attorney, Marc Zayon.  But he said that he never gave field training to Nero on transporting a prisoner or securing an inmate in a police wagon.

He told Zayon it could have been because field training time was cut short. But he couldn’t explain who decided to shorten field training.

Nero’s lawyers have argued that neither Nero, nor any of the other officers they called, had adequate training in transporting prisoners.

Legal analyst and defense attorney Warren Brown said the defense is exposing a gap between training and performance within the police department.

“There was an absence of really adequate training and it’s really kind of unfair to these officers to put them in the position,” Brown said.  “It’s like throwing them in a combat zone and you really haven’t trained them the way you should to deal with all the perils that are associated with fighting in a combat zone.”

Prosecutors have alleged that Nero, who is charged with assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office, assaulted Gray by handcuffing the 25-year-old and that he was reckless by not seat belting him in a police wagon.

Defense attorneys countered that it was another of the six officers charged in the case who handcuffed and shackled Gray. They said Nero didn’t touch Gray until Gray complained of not being able to breath.

Zayon and co-counsel, Allison Levine, called two fellow officers who worked with Nero at the Western District

Sgt. Warren Stephens testified that he went out on assignments with Nero to teach the young policeman the ropes.

Stephens referred to himself as Nero’s mentor; calling him “a baby officer.”

But Stephens said he didn't train Nero in how to seat-belt prisoners and he didn't tell his subordinates about a policy updated days before Gray's arrest making it mandatory to put prisoners in seat belts.

Defense attorneys also called Officer Aaron Jackson who assisted with crowd control at the first two stops the police wagon made the day of Gray's arrest.

Jackson testified that he heard screaming from the wagon and could see Gray "violently shaking" the vehicle.   He added that he'd made arrests but never buckled prisoners into the transport van's seat belt.

Legal analyst Brown, praised Levine for “painting the picture of what was going on there relative to Freddie Gray being combative inside the van to the point of rocking the van.”

“I think she’ll argue at closing that that serves as justification not to get in there and try to belt [Gray] in,” Brown added.

Defense attorneys will wrap up their case Wednesday morning.  Circuit Judge Barry Williams, who is trying the case without a jury, said closing arguments will take place Thursday.