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'It's Painful:' Father of Teen Slain by NYPD in 1994 Says DA Failed Again

By Murray Weiss | November 9, 2016 2:28pm
 Nicholas Heyward Sr., whose 13-year-old son was fatally shot by police, and his wife, Donna.
Nicholas Heyward Sr., whose 13-year-old son was fatally shot by police, and his wife, Donna.
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Murray Weiss

BOERUM HILL — Nicholas Heyward Sr. burst into tears and literally slumped into the arms of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson two years ago when the DA told him he would re-investigate the 1994 killing of his 13-year-old son by an NYPD officer.

His son, Nicholas Jr. was playing “cops and robbers” with friends, carrying what authorities later described as an authentic-looking toy rifle, when he was fatally shot in a Gowanus Houses stairwell by Officer Brian George, who was responding to reports of “a man with a gun.”

Last Friday, the elder Heyward was crying again — but not with tears of joy.

He was in the DA’s office being informed that their “thorough and fair” year-long re-investigation had once again concluded that George was legally justified in firing that single, tragic and fatal shot — the same decision reached by Thompson’s predecessor, Charles Hynes, 22 years ago.

“It’s painful,” Heyward told “On the Inside” as he stood in the autumn chill of the courtyard outside his Gowanus Houses apartment, across from the building where his son died on Sept. 17, 1994.

Since that fateful day, the grief-stricken Heyward has lobbied, protested and prayed for a re-investigation of that case, certain it would reach a different conclusion if only all the facts were known.

“I am very upset they are closing the case,” he said. “I don’t want this story to close with a lie."

DNAinfo New York reported exclusively last Friday that Acting DA Eric Gonzalez, who succeeded Thompson following his death from cancer last month, and his top aides met with Heyward and his wife, Donna, in his office.

They explained how they tracked down every living witness as far away as Colorado, including tenants and friends of his son, as well as re-examining all available photos, files and reports that were gathered in the case.

The “totality of evidence did not rise to the level of a criminal act,” and that George “reasonably believed that his life was in danger” when he fired, a DA spokesman.

Listening to their explanations, Heyward said tears welled up in his eyes and then ran down his cheeks as he struggled to contain his disappointment.

He said he disagreed with many of their points that he can never except their findings, starting with their photo of a brown, metallic looking rifle that they claim his son was holding when he was killed.

Heyward insists the toy authorities say his son had “in no way” resembles the flimsy, caramel-colored and orange-tipped plastic toy weapon he says his son’s friends told him his son had purchased a few days earlier and was holding that night.

And he points out how George, with just two years on the force, was jittery and widely known as “Robocop,” with his gun always drawn, frightening residents.

And while he once papered his car with vote-for-Thompson posters two years ago, he now can't even believe Thompson signed off on the findings in August, and hoped to personally deliver the news himself had he lived.

"No way," Heyward said. "It’s like they're saying forget you even had a child."

Heyward launched a foundation in his son’s name that holds an annual memorial candlelight vigil on the anniversary of his death on Baltic Street, where a mural of his son still stands.

He frequently mentioned his son’s character, how he was a “special kid” who spent most of his time sitting at a kitchen table reading and writing.

Heyward recalled a time when his son was mistakenly swept up in front of him by gun-toting police arresting other kids in the projects.

When his son was finally released from the precinct without charges, he was left traumatized and wrote an essay about wanting to become a "chief justice."

Standing in his kitchen on Monday, Heyward thumbed through a file of news clippings and other documents related to his son’s case.

He pulled out a faded copy of a single, neatly-printed paragraph written on a piece of lined loose-leaf paper dated "4-5-94" and titled: “Justice of ‘The U.S.A.’”

“I would like to be the 'chief justice' so I can sort the rights of the people in the most dramatic occasions and correct the realistic justice of their mistake,” the first line of his son's essay read.

Heyward says he will hold another vigil with several public figures on his son's case Thursday. The message will once again be that justice for his son has yet to be found.