Monday, May 23, 2016

'Nothing Wrong?' Nero Walks - Symone Marshall Died In a Texas Jail

Not Guilty - BPD Officer Edward Nero
In the wake of Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry William's finding BPD Officer Edward Nero not guilty on all accounts for charges related to his role in the death of Freddie Gray earlier today, the joint statement released by his defense lawyers was interesting.

After criticizing the prosecutors, Nero's attorneys Marc Zayon and Allison Levine suggested their client being found not guilty means the prosecutors should re-examine the case and charges against the other five should be dropped.

As they concluded in their statement: "Like Officer Nero, these officers have done nothing wrong."

Since the facts presented in this case make clear that Gray was chased and arrested without legal justification (a small knife was found on him only after he was stopped and searched), and was in police custody when he died,  I think it's pretty clear that something did go very wrong.

With all due respect to Officer Nero's lawyers, someone did something wrong.

The only question is whether the judicial system is going to hold any of the five other officers involved with Gray's arrest and transport in a police van responsible for his death.

That said, from a legal standpoint, it's questionable whether Nero should even have been arrested and charged.

Lt. Brian Rice (left) & Officer Garrett Miller (right)
While the BPD never produced a valid reason for stopping Gray in the first place, it was actually Lt. Brian Rice who initially began to chase Gray.

Nero and his partner Officer Garrett Miller responded to Rice's call for help.

Miller testified in court that it was he, not Nero who handcuffed Gray; Nero was off retrieving their police bicycles after a foot chase.

Legal experts have questioned States Attorney Marilyn Mosby's decision to charge all six officers rather than focusing on the individuals most directly involved with not securing Gray in a seat belt in the police van while he was handcuffed; and the driver, Caesar Goodson, for repeatedly accelerating and braking the vehicle intentionally.

Goodson will face trial in two weeks for second-degree murder and other trials will follow, but in terms of perception, what's troubling is the lingering sense that six different members of a police force with a notorious reputation for the mistreatment and unfair targeting of poor suspects of color were all involved in the death of a young man who hadn't actually broken any laws.

But collectively, none of them are legally responsible for his death. That's what bugs me about Nero's defense lawyers saying none of the officers did anything wrong - they don't seem to think anything is wrong with what happened.

Gray's neck didn't break itself, and our nation continues to see highly questionable deaths of people of color while in police custody.

Symone Marshall and her daughter
In the months since the death of Sandra Bland under mysterious circumstances inside a Texas jail cell after she was pulled over for an illegal lane change, other women of color have lost their lives while in custody in jails across the United States.

While 22-year old Symone Marshall's name never rang across mainstream media headlines, her death in a Huntsville, Texas jail back on May 10th nonetheless raises the question of how racial bias impacts the way police treat people taken into custody.

If you want to read a succinct account of Symone Marshall's death, check out the article Taryn Finley wrote for the Huffington Post last Thursday.

Marshall and her friend Amanda Arnold, 26, were in a car that flipped over three times after another driver ran them off the road in what Marshall's sisters say was a road rage incident.

When the police arrived at the scene, instead of taking them to the hospital, police claim Marshall couldn't produce a valid driver's licensed and officers claim to have found some cocaine in the car - they were both taken into custody on drug charges.

Arnold was released on bond, but Marshall couldn't pay her $5,000 bail and was kept locked up for two weeks. Marshall's sisters say she repeatedly complained that she didn't feel well and that her head hurt - the Walker County Sheriff's office claimed to have had a doctor and a nurse examine her eight days before she died, but they ignored repeated requests from Marshall's sister that they take her to the hospital.

On Tuesday May 10th, fourteen days after being taken into custody, she suffered a seizure and died from a blood clot in her lung that had gone untreated - she leaves behind a three-year old daughter.

Obviously this case is still under investigation, but like Freddie Gray, it illustrates how some people of color are treated in custody by law enforcement in this nation, even without having been convicted of any offense.

As I've tried to touch on a few times this month on the blog, Marshall's case also points to how bail requirements for local and state courts around the nation routinely keep non-violent offenders who haven't been convicted of a crime locked up in custody.

Sometimes, as in the case of this young mother who'd just moved from Detroit, had never been in trouble and had a good job, the consequences can be deadly.

Just as they were for Freddie Gray.

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