March 3, 2000
By William Van Auken
An Albany jury acquitted four New York City Police Officers Feb. 25 of all charges in the fatal shooting of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo in The Bronx.
The four Street Crime cops, Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy, rose in turn as a court clerk read out six separate charges for each officer. The most severe, second-degree murder, carried a penalty of up to life in prison, while the least, reckless endangerment, could have resulted in probation. Twenty-four times, the jury called out not guilty.
'The Book is Closed'
Albany Supreme Court Justice Joseph C. Teresi told the jury that "the book is closed on this case," a remark echoed by both Mayor Giuliani and police union officials.
Speaking shortly after the jury rendered its verdict, Mayor Giuliani declared that the Feb. 4, 1999 shooting, in which the unarmed Mr. Diallo was hit by 19 of 41 bullets fired at him in the vestibule of his own building was a "great tragedy." He quickly added that he expressed his "sympathy in the strongest terms" for the four Street Crime cops and their families "who have gone through a nightmare from which it will take a long time to recover."
The Mayor praised Justice Teresi and the Albany jury for conducting "an eminently fair trial," contrasting the speedy proceeding in Albany to the "carnival-like atmosphere" created by the protests in the city. The phrase was used by the state Appellate Division panel that rendered the decision to shift the trial from The Bronx to the state capital.
Mr. Giuliani derided critics of the Police Department for having "treated these police officers as if they had no rights, as if they were not citizens. They tried to get it resolved in the streets." He reiterated his own frequently stated policy of "giving the benefit of the doubt" to cops charged with excessive force.
At the same time, the Mayor acknowledged that the Diallo shooting had led to a "re-examination" of police procedures and relations between the department and the minority communities. As a result, he said, police were now dealing with people in "a more respectful way."
Police Commissioner Howard Safir said that "there were no winners" in the trial, but added that the jury's verdict was "dictated by the facts and evidence in this case."
"I don't think that anyone who is fair-minded thinks that these officers left their homes that morning with the intention of shooting anybody and particularly not Amadou Diallo," he said.
Mr. Safir said that the four cops would remain on modified assignment, without their guns and shields, while the NYPD's firearms Review Board conducts its own investigation of the shooting to determine whether it was carried out within departmental guidelines for the use of deadly force. On the basis of its findings, he said, the board could issue recommendations for administrative disciplinary action against the officers.
If the board finds that the shooting did conform to the department's guidelines, the cops will be restored to full duty, he said.
"There is no reason that these four police officers should not be put back to work," said Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. "The verdict should be respected and those officers should be allowed to go and put their lives back together again."
Mr. Lynch, who attended the trial in Albany and was in court for the verdict, said that all four cops had expressed the desire to return to full duty.
'Tragedy, Not a Crime'
"This vindicates what we have been saying since last February," said Mr. Lynch. "This was a tragedy, not a crime."
Thomas J. Scotto, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, the union which now represents the rest of the Street Crime Unit cops who were given a mass promotion to Detective Specialist in the wake of the Diallo shooting, also expressed his satisfaction with the verdict.
"They were found not guilty and I think that the department has an obligation to retain these officers," he said. "In light of their testimony that they felt that their lives were in danger," he added, the department cannot find that they acted outside the guidelines.
Mr. Scotto said that he was still fearful that the four cops could face Federal civil rights charges, something which he noted the Rev. Al Sharpton had already demanded.
Lieut. Eric Adams, the president of the African-American fraternal group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, meanwhile, called for a different form of Federal probe.
"We believe that the Federal Government should convene a special grand jury to investigate what role the policies of the New York City Police Department played in taking the life of Amadou Diallo," he said. "We believe an atmosphere was created that allowed Street Crime officers to police communities of color in a very reckless and dangerous manner." Mayor Giuliani, Commissioner Safir and other Police Department officials should be subpoenaed to determine "who is responsible for creating that atmosphere," Lieut. Adams noted.