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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Trump/Clinton Tied in National Polls; Police Officer Acquitted in Freddie Gray Death; Gray Family Attorney Reacts to Verdict. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 23, 2016 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:18] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman.

It's neck and neck, it's a tie, it's a dead heat, it's May. All of the above are true, but which is the most important? Two national polls, new national polls, show Donald Trump closing a double-digit gap with Hillary Clinton, and in one poll he's even leading her right now. A "Washington Post/"ABC News poll has Trump leading Clinton 46 to 44 percent. That's an 11-point shift for Donald Trump since March. The "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll has Trump at 43 percent, Clinton a little ahead at 46 percent. Both of those polls well within the margin of error.

BOLDUAN: And both candidates are already making history. Though this is not the kind of history you want to be making if you're a candidate for the president. Both staring down 50-plus percent unfavorable ratings right now, making them the most unpopular likely nominees in modern presidential history.

Here to break down the numbers is CNN political director, David Chalian.

David, I think it's important to take a moment and say, wow, this is where we are at this moment.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: The horse race numbers you did right there, guys, I mean, let's just start out by saying both establishment Republicans who have been reluctant to Donald Trump and left-wing liberals who probably thought if he was the nominee it was like a glorious day for them, the headline there is he could win, and that I think has both -- real impact on both the left and the right as they coalesce around their nominees for the fall election.

But let's take a look at those unfavorable numbers that you just cited, Kate. It is historic. Majorities in both of these polls. Look at this. Unfavorable for Clinton, 57 percent. Unfavorable for Trump, 57 percent. Very similar there in "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll. Look at the "Wall Street Journal"/NBC numbers on this score. Here you see Trump is even more unfavorable than Clinton. But, again, majorities, 54 percent for Clinton, 58 percent for Trump unfavorable.

And this is why it's so important. Yes, it's historic, but it means we are probably girding for a really uninspiring election season for the next six months because these folks are not liked, and it's giving some credence to the notion of this hunger that we see in American politics today for some other option.

BERMAN: It's a glass half empty challenge. It's a victory --

BOLDUAN: David Chalian.

BERMAN: It's a victory for the unloved and unlikable. You can look at it that way also.

CHALIAN: You're right.

BOLDUAN: But David Chalian will not.

BERMAN: It's interesting. The Trump coalition and the Clinton coalition that are being built right now, who is ling up behind each candidate, very, very telling.

CHALIAN: Let's start with Hillary Clinton's coalition and what the makeup of strong support among her supporters are. Take a look here. If you look among African-American voters, if you look among Latinos, women, young voters, you see those are all hugely important categories for Secretary Clinton. Big margins there, guys. Really big margins of victory. Take a look at the Trump coalition from the NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll there, white voters, senior citizens, men, and even edging out among Independents. These are not surprising numbers as much as they are reinforcing of where we are in our politics today, guys, and what is going to be so important to each side. These look similar to the Obama versus Romney 2012 coalitions, which if you're Donald Trump, is not the most welcome news because Romney lost that race. But you do see how important for Secretary Clinton that she is going to need that Obama coalition to come out again in strong numbers if she's going to override his advantage with Independents and men and whites.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

BERMAN: David Chalian for us in Washington. Thanks so much.

We have breaking news right now out of Baltimore right now. The first verdict in a trial dealing with the death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody now more than one year ago. This concerns the case of Officer Edward Nero.

Miguel, what can you tell us?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Edward Nero found not guilty on all charges. The judge saying that on the charge of assault that he wasn't even there for the arrest. He did not put the cuffs on Mr. Gray. He did not arrest Mr. Gray. Therefore, there is no assault. In the misconduct charge in office that he was charged with in connection with that arrest, he said if he didn't arrest him, then there's no misconduct in office. That also not guilty. On the reckless endangerment, Mr. Nero was one of the individuals that the prosecution said failed to put a seat belt on Mr. Gray or raise the fact that Mr. Gray had not been seat belted. He said that the state just did not prove its case, that a reasonable officer would have done just what Mr. Nero had done in that situation. So there was no reckless endangerment on the second count of misconduct in office related to that seat belt charge. He said if he acted reasonably in not doing that, there is no misconduct here.

Edward Nero in court -- this has been a year that he has been dealing with this -- hung his head down low. You could see the relief sort of falling away from him as the judge said very simply, not guilty on all counts. A full acquittal for him. This will have huge implications for the other officers, the other five officers, as they go to court.

And this is a verdict that this city had been waiting for. Certainly, people here already gathering to see if there will be any reaction to this verdict -- John?

[11:05:49] BOLDUAN: Miguel, important context in all of this is this was a bench trial. This was no jury involved in this. And as this was all playing out, the judge did seem to challenge the prosecution on their claim that Officer Nero's kind of activity, the takedown, the arrest, that it meant criminal assault. Take us inside there on those conversations and what -- how that judge's challenge seemed to foreshadow where we ended up today.

MARQUEZ: Two sides here. Nero's lawyers discussed this at length about whether they should do a bench trial. That is Judge Barry Williams only heard the evidence. And they felt because of the legal theories, the prosecution was going to get into, that it would serve them better to do the bench trial. Remember, the last trial ended in a hung jury. The jury not being able to get through all the legalese. In this case, the judge again and again basically told the prosecutors, I don't understand, how is it you are saying that Mr. Gray was detained and that was legal, a Terry stop as they call it, and that was legal. But at some point, it becomes illegal when he was arrested, the cuffs put on him, and him charged. Where is that point? Where would a reasonable officer acting -- maybe he made a mistake, but where would a reasonable officer even if he made a mistake fall into a criminal liability? The judge just never saw it.

It is something that happens on the streets here and across this country every day. People upset that police not only detain them but arrest them, put them in prison. They become a number, they become part of the system. And they really despise that about the police. That charge, those charges are what the prosecution seemed to be charging was trying to get at that, and the judge said you just didn't make a case.

BERMAN: This is the first verdict, Miguel, we've been saying, although it's the second trial involving the death of Freddie Gray. The trial of William Porter ended with a hung jury, so declared a mistrial. He will be retried in the coming months.

Put Officer Nero into context for us. He's one of six officers charged. What did he do that day?

MARQUEZ: This was about 8:40 in the morning or 8:00 in the morning. Mr. Gray sees officers, goes running. Edward Nero was one of the officers on a bike patrol along with Officer Miller. Both of them chased Mr. Gray. Miller jumped off his bike, ran after Mr. Gray, grabbed him at a gate or a fence near the area he was trying to run into. Mr. Nero then went back to get Mr. Miller's bicycle, which he had left and brought that back. The judge noted that, because he said, look, Nero wasn't there for the actual arrest, and that was a huge piece of information for the judge in making his decision. So Nero shows up a few seconds later, after Miller already has him down in cuffs, arrested. Then he is put into the van, that famous video of Mr. Gray being put into the van. They say that Mr. Nero did have contact with Gray later on, when he was moved to the area where we see him in that famous video of Mr. Gray screaming and being put into the van. At the second stop, about 20 seconds later, maybe a minute later, right around the corner on Mount Street, they said that Mr. Nero helped put Mr. Gray in leg irons or in cuffs on his ankles. They put him in the van. And the prosecution saying that's when he should have said, when you slid him out of the van, you should have put a seat belt on him or told somebody that you should have. The defense arguing, well, any reasonable officer not knowing how these seat belts work, this is a bike officer, he was never trained on it, didn't really know. The van driver himself is the one responsible for that person in the van. So it wasn't his fault. The judge agreed with him saying that Nero was not responsible for putting him in a seat belt.

[11:09:43] BOLDUAN: Miguel Marquez is outside the White House.

Miguel, stick with us. We're going to be right back after a break.

We are covering breaking news here in the cases against the officers involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. This happened back in April 2015. This is the first verdict of the six officers charged in his arrest and subsequent death. Breaking news coverage, what this means for the cases going forward, and for that city, coming up right after the break.

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BERMAN: All right. Our breaking news, just moments ago, Officer Edward Nero acquitted of all charges related to the death of Freddie Gray. This happened more than a year ago in Baltimore, Maryland. He's one of six officers charged separately in this case. There was one trial already for William Porter. That ended in a hung jury, a mistrial. So this is the first verdict, acquitted of all charges.

We have our eye on Baltimore right now. We are waiting for reaction from the attorney and the family of Freddie Gray. We will bring that to you the minute it happens.

BOLDUAN: In the meantime, let's bring in Danny Cevallos, CNN legal analyst, on this.

Danny, you have been following this trial so closely. Your initial reaction to the verdict? DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think this is a gambit by the

defense that worked out just perfectly, because the general sort of consensus is that judge-only trials are risky for defendants. The idea is math. It's sort of a game theory, that with 12 jurors, you only need to convince one of them that that person is not guilty. But with one judge you get one flip of the coin. But that math is a little flawed because a judge is a little better suited to understand legal issues, like self-defense, probable cause to make a stop, and that was an issue here. You saw that this judge questioned witnesses and questioned the prosecutor about whether or not an arrest without probable cause always constitutes a crime. That was very, very important. This judge appeared to hone in on some important legal issues. This may have been a gamble that worked well for the defense.

[11:15:28] BERMAN: Judge Barry Williams making the decision. It was a bench trial, as Danny was saying. No jury in this case.

Danny, one of six trials here. Does this give any sense of what might happen in the five trials to follow?

CEVALLOS: It definitely does. If nothing else, this news is going to get to any potential jury pool. But ultimately, what -- if these officers are acquitted, it may be because they were tried separately and not together. Look, I am a biased defense attorney, but it's always been my view, and I think defense attorneys would agree, that prosecutions benefit by grouping defendants together, putting a bunch of guys at a table and pointing the finger at the whole of them. When you try them each separately, now each of their conduct is only seen as a little part of a broader crime or a broader problem, and so ultimately if there are nothing but acquittals in this case, that might be a significant factor, the trial of defendants in individual cases.

BOLDUAN: Danny, stick with us for one second.

Let's get back over to Baltimore.

Miguel Marquez is on the ground and he has Freddie Gray's family attorney with him -- Miguel?

MARQUEZ: This is Billy Murphy, the Freddie Gray family attorney.

You were in the room for that verdict. What did you make of the judge's reasoning?

BILLY MURPHY, ATTORNEY FOR FREDDIE GRAY FAMILY: I found no problem with the judge's reasoning. And, of course, the outcome about how he weighs the evidence is strictly up to him and not to us. I commend Judge Williams because he's one of those rare judges that disregarded public opinion. There was enormous pressure from the African-American community to get a conviction --

(CROSSTALK)

MARQUEZ: An African-American judge, we should say.

MURPHY: Yes. And he did not bend to that pressure.

MARQUEZ: But Mr. Gray's family cannot be happy with this result. They say that the damage to Mr. Gray's spine occurred at the point of arrest and subsequently.

MURPHY: On the other hand, they also respect the process. And you couldn't have asked for a more fair-minded judge than Barry Williams. You could not ask for a judge with a background that was absolutely suited to handle this kind of case. You can't argue that he left out any of the relevant evidence. And you can't argue that he did not cover every aspect of the law that applies to this case. And so I think that the family is going to respect that opinion and await the outcome of the rest of the cases.

MARQUEZ: Prosecutors charging Officer Nero with a transaction that happens almost every day on the streets of Baltimore, that people that I covered during this process were very upset about, that is being detained, being arrested, being put into the system by the police here. It is an us-against-them sort of sensibility. These charges seem to try to get at that, that you just can't make arrests willy- nilly. The judge didn't agree, saying this arrest was legal.

MURPHY: Well, he found out from the evidence that Officer Nero was not involved in the arrests, and so that can't be pinned on Officer Nero. And I respect that finding. He was in the best position to make a finding one way or the other. That's what we pay judges to do, and he did it. Who am I to say that he should have been found guilty or not guilty? And unless you hear all of the evidence and you understand the legal principles involved, your opinion is essentially irrelevant. And I caution the public not to have an opinion about a case that was tried in such detail that they didn't see.

MARQUEZ: That's the other question. Certainly, the city will be watching. They will hear acquittal on all charges of the first white police officer tried in this situation. How is that going to be received here?

MURPHY: Well, I hope it's going to be received with equanimity because we learn from this process. You can't convict people unless you know the evidence. You can't convict people unless you know the law. And that's why we have judges. And Judge Williams is an outstanding example of the kind of judge that rejected public opinion and based his opinion only on the law and the evidence as he saw it. Now, the defense chose a bench trial, and it worked out well for them. That says nothing about whether it's going to work out well for any of the other officers involved in this case.

MARQUEZ: Have you spoken directly to the Gray family and got their reaction?

MURPHY: Not yet, but I intend to do so.

MARQUEZ: I understand his mother was meant to be in court today but didn't make it, I don't think.

MURPHY: I didn't see her in the courtroom but I have heard conflicting reports about whether she ultimately made it. But I'll be talking to the family shortly.

MARQUEZ: All right. Mr. Murphy, thank you very much.

Certainly, a huge case that will be watched, this particular verdict. And now going forward, June 6th is the next trial slated of Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver, the officer up on the most serious of charges.

Back to you.

[11:20:22] BERMAN: Miguel Marquez for us in Baltimore.

We have been looking at aerial photos of what's going on in the ground in Baltimore. You can see there's some demonstrations outside the courthouse. Also a lot of cameras. I think a lot of it was photographers running around.

BOLDUAN: Not exactly --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Not sure exactly what's going on, but you can see there is some reaction on the ground right now.

BOLDUAN: We are getting reaction, a statement just came in from Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, in the middle of all of these simmering tensions that ignited over the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. In part, the statement says, "We once again want to ask the citizens to be patient and to allow the process to come to a conclusion. In the case of any disturbance, we are prepared to respond. We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses, and the people of our city."

You can see the concern that this could boil over in the reaction.

BERMAN: Danny Cevallos is still with us.

We heard from Billy Murphy, the attorney for Freddie Gray's family, right now, representing the interests of the deceased in this case. But very complimentary of the judge, Barry Williams, who made the decision from the bench. He found no fault at all with the decision made from the bench there. Is that a usual thing?

CEVALLOS: Attorney Murphy is an excellent strategist. I can only speculate why he would take that opinion. You can be naturally inclined to think he would not be a big fan of the judge's decision in this case, but he made some very important observations. Again, this is a judge-only trial. And while 12 jurors or a jury may have the pressures, the social pressures, they're different for a judge. In a way, they're more intense because he or she is the sole arbiter of this case. But on the other hand, he is sort of empowered by his or her knowledge of the law and knowing that he has to make decision one way or the other, that this is ultimately an issue of law. And like Attorney Murphy said, this is a gamble that worked out well for the defense. It will be interesting to see what the ripple effects of this decision will be as to the other defendants. BOLDUAN: Do we know yet, and I'm sorry if 1't know, do we know if all

the other defendants have already opted for a bench trial or it's way too early to get into that?

CEVALLOS: I actually don't know. But I will tell you this, there's an interesting part of American law. Each of us has a right to a jury trial, but what I found out myself, much to my disappointment, is that defendants do not have an absolute right to a bench trial, to a judge trial. In many situations, the prosecution can stop that request for a judge-only trial. So it raises the question, if the prosecution could have stopped a bench trial, why didn't they?

BERMAN: Just one of the questions we're going to be asking.

Our live coverage from Baltimore will continue in a moment.

Again, the breaking news is this, Officer Edward Nero, one of the six officers charged in the death --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: This is him walking maybe out of the courthouse it looks like. That's what we're looking at right now, John.

BERMAN: You see the footage there of him moving there and a lot of people following him. He has been declared not guilty on all charges.

More from the ground and reaction from the streets, coming up.

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[11:27:52] BERMAN: All right. The breaking news out of Baltimore, Maryland. Judge Barry Williams has declared Officer Edward Nero not guilty on all charges connected to the death of Freddie Gray more than one year ago in Baltimore. Freddie Gray you'll remember died while in police custody, sparking all kinds of protests on the streets of that Baltimore. Live pictures from the streets of Baltimore.

Moments ago, we received a statement from the Fraternal Order of Police. We will read it to you. "Officer Edward Nero is relieved that for him this nightmare is nearing an end. Being falsely charged with a crime and prosecuted for reasons that have nothing to do with justice is a horror that no person should ever have to endure. Unfortunately, however, his relief is tempered by the fact that five other police officers, outstanding men and women, and good friends, must continue to fight these baseless prosecutions. None of these officers did anything wrong. The state attorneys responded to the riots and violence in Baltimore by rushing to charge these officers rashly and without any meaningful investigation. They seized a political opportunity and in the process destroyed six lives and demolished the relationship between the Baltimore Police Department and their own officers."

BOLDUAN: The Fraternal order of Police, we're told, are speaking on behalf of Officer Nero. And the statement goes on to say, "Officer Nero prays that justice will serve each of the remaining officers with thesame fairness it has served him. He implores States Attorney Mosby to refocus her flawed analysis on the facts around Mr. Gray's death and dismiss the charges. These are good police officers, good people. While Mr. Gray's death is no doubt tragic on many levels, maintaining these prosecutions only propels the tragedies to another level."

BERMAN: You are, again, looking at live pictures right now from Baltimore. As you can imagine, this trial being watched very closely. All six of these cases being watched very closely.

And just after the verdict was read, again, not guilty on all charges for Officer Edward Nero, there was some reaction from people on the streets. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day gangbangers, not one time have I been mistreated. Situations happen. It's how you handle this matter. I feel this family's heart. I'm telling y'all, no justice. This is why they say no justice, no peace. You can't have peace when you put my son in the grave. Come on, y'all.