BALTIMORE (TheBlaze/AP) -- A Baltimore officer was acquitted Monday of assault and other charges in the arrest of Freddie Gray, dealing prosecutors a significant blow in their attempt to hold police accountable for the young black man's death from injuries he suffered in the back of a police van.
Edward Nero, a Baltimore police officer who was involved in Freddie Gray's arrest, exits the Baltimore City Circuit Court for a lunch recess during the first day of his trial on May 12, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. This is the second trial related to the death of Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
A judge also found Officer Edward Nero not guilty of reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. The assault charge carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and reckless endangerment carried a punishment of up to five years.
Gray died April 19, 2015, a week after his neck was broken in the back of a police transport van while he was handcuffed and shackled but left unrestrained by a seat belt.
Nero was one of six officers charged in the case. He waived his right to a jury trial, opting instead to argue his case before Circuit Judge Barry Williams.
Officer William Porter's manslaughter trial ended in a hung jury in December.
Gray's death set off more than a week of protests followed by looting, rioting and arson that prompted a citywide curfew. His name became a rallying cry in the growing national conversation about the treatment of black men by police officers.
Prosecutors said Nero unlawfully detained Gray and acted callously when he made a decision not to buckle Gray into a seat belt when he was loaded into the back of a transport vehicle.
Nero's attorney argues that his client didn't arrest Gray and that it is the police van driver's responsibility to buckle in detainees. The defense argued that the officers who responded that day acted responsibly, and called witnesses to bolster their argument that any reasonable officer in Nero's position would have made the same decisions.
The defense also sought to convince the judge that the department's order requiring that all inmates be strapped in is more suggestion than rule because officers are expected to act with discretion based on the circumstances of each situation.
The other officers are set to each have separate trials over the summer and into the fall. Nero is white and Porter is black. Two of the other officers charged in the case are white and two are black.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake responded to the verdict moments after it was issued.
"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."
My statement on the judge's decision in the criminal trial of officer Nero pic.twitter.com/2clErkU0YF— Mayor Rawlings-Blake (@MayorSRB) May 23, 2016
"Although the criminal case against Officer Edward Nero has come to a close, the internal investigation has not. With that, Officer Nero's status will remain unchanged. He will remain in an administrative capacity while this investigation continues," Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith said, WBAL-TV reported.
Smith said the administrative review will not be completed until after the other five criminal cases have concluded, since the other officers will likely be witnesses in each of the cases.
Rawlings-Blake assured citizens that the city is "prepared to respond" to disturbances following Monday's verdict.
"We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city," the mayor said in a statement.