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NYPD Was 'Disrespectful' at Tribute For Boy Slain By Police in '94: Parents

By Nikhita Venugopal | September 21, 2016 3:50pm
 Nicholas Heyward Sr. and Donna Heyward, whose son Nicholas Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer in 1994.
Nicholas Heyward Sr. and Donna Heyward, whose son Nicholas Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer in 1994.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

BOERUM HILL — The NYPD interrupted an annual memorial for a 13-year-old boy who was shot dead by a police officer at Gowanus Houses in 1994, according to the family, who is now seeking department action against a lieutenant.

In the two decades since Nicholas Heyward Jr. was killed, the community has come together every year to commemorate the teen. But this year's event on Aug. 27, which took place at the Boerum Hill park named after the teen, was sullied by an encounter with police officers, his father Nicholas Heyward Sr. said.

"I have never had any police presence in the last two decades," he said Tuesday night at the 76th Precinct's community council meeting.

Deputy Inspector Elliot Colon, commanding officer of the 76th Precinct, said the increased police presence had nothing to do with the event and everything to do with the safety of attendees.

"As you're well aware, there's back and forth between Red Hook and Gowanus," Colon said, referring to a longstanding feud between gangs from the two housing projects that has occasionally turned fatal.

"[The officers] were posted there on my orders to prevent any type of violence at that location."

Gowanus Houses saw multiple shootings last year, including one that left three victims wounded at a nearby basketball court. Police presence was promptly increased, which led to a drop in the number of shootings this year, Colon said.

Almost 22 years after the teen was shot and killed by NYPD Housing Officer Brian George on Sept. 27, 1994 while playing with a plastic toy gun, the boy's parents and the neighborhood were celebrating his birthday with basketball and activities for kids on that Saturday in August. He would have turned 35 this year, his father said.

Shortly after 7 p.m., while they were getting ready to wrap up, a group of police officers approached the event.

The officers, led by a lieutenant, questioned Heyward Sr. about his sound permit, though there was no music playing at the time and they were getting ready to pack up, the father said. Only two parts of the ceremony remained — the release of white balloons into the sky and the cutting of a cake for Nicholas.

"He came to me like he was a gangster and he had a toothpick hanging out of his mouth," Heyward Sr. told DNAinfo New York after the meeting Tuesday. "He was really disrespectful."

Heyward Sr., and his wife Donna, said the officers were asking about a rally they thought had been scheduled, not a memorial service.

"They were very, very rude. They frightened the children and even myself," he said during the meeting.

The lieutenant, Colon said, was the incident commander on the scene "so for him to ask, what time the music's going to, that's not an absurd question."

Noha Arafa, an attorney who attended the meeting in support of the Heywards, said the lieutenant did not indicate he was there to protect the event, but only adamantly asked about a sound permit. Another attorney, M.J. Williams, confirmed Wednesday that they did have a sound permit for the event.

"It is insulting to have increased police presence at a memorial for a 13-year-old boy," Arafa said at the meeting. "The inference is that you're expecting something to happen on an event for a memorial."

But Colon insisted that the threat of violence warranted the number of police officers patrolling the area.

"The gentlemen in Red Hook do not care that you're having a remembrance day," he said. "All they see is a crowd of people and they will shoot into a crowd of people."

The police eventually backed off at the event and the community was able to complete their ceremony. But the Heywards are looking for action against the lieutenant.

Colon and precinct council president Jerry Armer said they could not take action and suggested that the family file a complaint against the lieutenant with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. They plan to do so before the end of the week, Heyward Sr. said.

"I don't trust police," Nicholas Heyward Sr. said.

"Why would you trust somebody who killed your child?" Donna Heyward asked.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story identified Noha Arafa as an attorney to Nicholas Heyward Sr. and Donna Heyward. She does not represent the family. A previous version also identified Nicholas Heyward Sr.'s wife as Angela, which is the name of Nicholas Heyward Jr.'s mother. Heyward Sr.'s wife's name is Donna.