Relatives of Those Killed by Police Ask NYPD Watchdog to Probe Use of Force
TIMES SQUARE — When she heard about the confrontation with police that left Staten Island man Eric Garner dead, Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham, the unarmed Bronx teen fatally shot in his own home by NYPD Officer Richard Haste in 2012, says she couldn't watch the viral video of the incident.
That changed Wednesday when the video of Officer Daniel Pantaleo dragging Garner to the ground in what appears to be a chokehold was shown at a meeting of clergy, labor leaders and community activists at SEIU 1199 headquarters.
"I broke down. I never watched that video before today and to see what really happened is horrible," said Malcolm. "It brings a lot of memories back for me."
Malcolm is one of several people whose family members died after confrontations with police who met with the NYPD's new inspector general to ask for an investigation into the use of deadly force.
Among them were Iris Baez, the mother of 29-year-old Anthony Baez, who died when police put him in a chokehold in 1994 after a football he was throwing around with friends on Thanksgiving Day hit a police cruiser.
The group also included Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, who died on his wedding day in 2006 after police fired 50 shots at his car as he and his friends left a bachelor party.
"When these killings happen all it does is open old wounds that have only been patched up," said Bell's fiancee Nicole Paultre Bell, who is currently raising two daughters she had with Bell. "We need accountability. Accountability hasn't changed. With each family that suffers we are only giving permission for these things to violate our community."
The relatives were set to meet with Inspector General Philip Eure, who formerly served as the executive director of the District of Columbia’s Office of Police Complaints. He was appointed in March after the City Council passed a law creating the watchdog position following the debate and lawsuits over the police practice of stop-and-frisk.
Relatives said they want to see more consequences for officers who administer deadly force, adding that the majority of officers have not been convicted in the deaths. Without consequences, they say, the use of force will continue.
"I'm here today to find out why all these officers are breaking protocol yet nothing is happening," said Natasha Duncan, sister of 23-year-old Shantel Davis outside of the inspector general's offices in lower Manhattan.
Davis was allegedly shot and killed by an officer after a car chase in East Flatbush.
"I'm here today to ask for justice," said Hawa Bah, mother Mohamed Bah, described as an emotionally disturbed man who was shot and killed by police on Sept. 25, 2012 after Hawa Bah called police because her son was naked and wielding a foot-long knife in his Morningside Heights apartment.
"Mohamed was a wonderful boy who would never commit any crimes," said Bah who added that police need better training to deal with the emotionally disturbed.
Baez's mother said officers need to be held accountable.
"When I heard this happened again I said: 'No, we cannot continue to let this happen...The police are supposed to protect us, not abuse us," she said.
Margarita Rosario, the mother of Anthony Rosario and aunt of Hilton Vega, who were killed in a Bronx apartment in 1995 when police investigating a burglary fired 28 shots at the pair, many of which struck both men in the back, was overcome with emotion.
"For 19 years I've been coming out here and saying when are we going to do something? When are we going to train these police officers....to stop killing our children. Our community can't take it anymore," she said.
In Graham's case, Haste was indicted for manslaughter but that indictment was tossed out after a judge ruled that the Bronx District Attorney's office did not properly instruct the grand jury. A new grand jury declined to indict Haste. The Justice Department promised to look into the case almost a year ago.
"I've been saying for two years if there is no jail time for Haste, it will happen again and here we go with Eric Garner. If Richard Haste had gone to jail it would have sent a clear message we are not going to tolerate this," Malcolm said.
The three detectives charged in Bell's shooting were acquitted of criminal charges, but were later ousted from the NYPD for violating departmental guidelines. The Justice Department declined to charge the officers with civil rights violations.
The Staten Island District Attorney is currently looking into Garner's case after the city's medical examiner ruled the death was a homicide caused by compression of the 43-year-old's neck and chest.
The head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and Sergeants Benevolent Association said the officer did not use a chokehold and accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of rushing to judgment in the case.
"Sometimes the use of force is necessary. But it's never pretty to watch," PBA President Patrick Lynch said Tuesday about the Garner case.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he takes the allegations very seriously but the investigations over Garner's death must run their course.
Activists including the Rev. Al Sharpton are planning to march across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island on Aug. 23.
Loida Colon of the Justice Committee said the meeting was requested and confirmed two months before Garner's death but the participants represent "two decades of families" affected by alleged police brutality.
Colon said the new inspector general has promised only to listen and to learn what the families are going through, but the group is still hoping for a historic outcome in the form of an investigation into the police use of force that leads to death.
"My daughters are growing up without their fathers," said Paultre Bell. "We won't be satisfied until no more men, innocent, are killed by police officers."