DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The NYPD officer charged with murder in a fatal 2016 road-rage shooting feared for his life when he gunned down an unarmed father of three on Atlantic Avenue in East New York, according to his defense team.
Lawyers for Wayne Isaacs, who killed 37-year-old Delrawn Small just after midnight on July 4, 2016, argued at the beginning of his trial that the off-duty officer acted out of self-defense and had no choice but to open fire on Small when confronted in his car at a traffic light.
“He wasn’t walking over to have a conversation about safe driving. He’s a menace, he’s angry, he’s intoxicated,” said defense lawyer Stephen Worth. “This wasn’t a conversation — it was an assault.”
However, prosecutors from the state Attorney General’s office said Isaacs opened fire on Small without making any attempt to flee or defuse the situation, standing over his body as the man bled out in the street rather than applying CPR.
“The evidence will show what the defendant did not do,” prosecutor Jose Nieves said. “He did not identify himself as a police officer before he shot Delrawn Small. He did not do anything to avoid a confrontation. Instead, he pulled out a gun, shot him three times, and killed Delrawn Small in the blink of an eye. And then he strolled over to his body, took a look and walked away.”
The opening arguments Monday marked the beginning of the trial, in which Isaacs faces charges of second-degree murder and first degree manslaughter for the shooting.
This is the first case brought under the governor's 2015 executive order authorizing the attorney general to prosecute cases involving the death of an unarmed civilian by police.
The defense team and prosecutors agree that the confrontation occurred after Small, accompanied by his girlfriend, their young son and his 14-year-old stepdaughter, were driving home from a barbecue when Isaacs, on his way home from a patrol shift, drove past them in traffic.
Small had consumed three alcoholic drinks at the barbecue, a fact highlighted by the defense, which claimed he was legally intoxicated at the time. The assertion was dismissed by the prosecution, which noted that Small was a big man who had spread the drinks out over several hours.
From there, the two sides' narratives diverge. According to prosecutors, Isaacs cut off Small in traffic on Atlantic Avenue before stopping at a red light at Bradford Street, prompting Small to get out and confront the off-duty officer. In his opening remarks, Nieves told jurors that Isaacs fired three times in a second.
“This case is about the brutal murder of an unarmed man,” Nieves said. “The evidence will show that the defendant shot and killed Delrawn Small and that he had absolutely no legal justification to do so.”
A video of the shooting, released by the New York Post days after the incident, shows that Small walked up to the driver’s side window, with his body partially obscured by Isaacs' car during the moment the shots were fired. The video then shows Isaacs walking up to where Small had fallen, looking at him for a moment and returning to his car.
Isaacs was unaware that he had cut Small off, according to Worth, who asked jurors to consider why the officer may have reacted with so little emotion following the shooting.
“Maybe we can forgive him for not having a lot of compassion for the man who just assaulted him, but he acted professionally," Worth said.
Isaacs, who is free on $500,000 bail, has been on modified duty since the shooting.
The courtroom was packed Monday with members of Small’s and Isaacs’ family, who were placed on opposite ends of the gallery.
Speaking with reporters at the lunch break, Small's sister, Victoria Davis, condemned the defense for characterizing her brother as drunk and dangerous.
“I believe they’re painting a picture as propaganda to divert attention from what the real story is: Delrawn Small was an unarmed man, a father of three, a loving and kind man, who was killed unjustly by Wayne Isaacs,” she said. “[Isaacs] had plenty of options, but he chose to shoot and kill Delrawn in cold blood and leave him in the street.”
The trial is expected to take several weeks, according to Judge Alexander Jeong.