December 19, 1999
By STEVE DUNLEAVY
Police officer Sean Carroll looks at his 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son and says with his voice cracking: "I can only imagine what the Diallo family must be going through.
"I put myself in their place and think how I would feel if my loved ones were taken away from me. There is not a moment of my waking day that I don't think about that night."
Officer Carroll is talking for the first time about that terrible night last Feb. 4 when young Amadou Diallo was shot dead in a tragic mistake as four cops mistook him for a serial rapist and believed he was going for a gun.
"You don't sleep much. It's an ongoing nightmare. But then you very quickly stop feeling sorry for yourself when you think about the Diallo family."
Sean Carroll's wife Fionnuala has remained steadfastly by his
side. But the cop is still often overcome with grief, like
he was in the first days after the terrible mistake that cost
the life of Amadou Diallo.
- Rick Dembow
Does this tough street cop cry?
Of course he cries -- he's still crying.
"I'll be sorry for the rest of my life," says 36-year-old Carroll.
"I'm shattered about the tragedy and sometimes feel totally lost. I pray a lot."
Often his prayers are heard at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church on Long Island.
While God would welcome Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, some of the parishioners might not.
"In that church I often see Elizabeth Sanchez and Patty Gillespie with their sons, and it tears your heart out."
Officer Kevin Gillespie was shot dead in The Bronx, and Officer Tony Sanchez was shot dead in Manhattan. Both Morgenthau and Johnson, for their own philosophical reasons, oppose the death penalty -- even when cops are shot.
Officer Carroll knows just how fragile that thin blue line can be between leaving your wife a widow and your children fatherless.
Carroll remembers a hot August night at 11 o'clock, when he and his partner were patrolling a crack alley near Boston Road and 214th Street in The Bronx's 47th Precinct.
Suddenly -- gunfire from a rooftop.
"We recovered seven cartridges that were fired on us from the roof top," Officer Carroll recalled. "It's an out of body experience. In a flash, while reacting to your training, you think, why would anyone want to take your life?
"You think about your survival, and you think about your partner's survival. It just happened so fast. You just can't believe how many things go through your mind in that split second."
Carroll, together with other police officers Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon and Kenneth Boss, has been accused of murder in the shooting of Diallo, an African immigrant, on that Feb. 4 date of loss in the doorway of 1157 Wheeler Ave.
The trial has been taken out of The Bronx and moved to Albany County because of an explosion of pre-trial publicity which has already incarcerated these cops without a word of independent evidence being uttered.
Of course, Al Sharpton is hitting more high Cs than Pavarotti. What a surprise that is.
But right now we are talking about the fragility of tragedy, loss, race. We are talking about Bronx DA Robert Johnson, who runs grand juries with a sadly curious attitude towards police officers who get gunned down like vermin. And hopefully, eventually, we are talking about justice.
"I think -- and I think I'm talking for the other officers -- that there has been a lot of pre-judgment here," Carroll said.
"We only ask for a fair and impartial trial, based on evidence and facts surrounding the tragedy. Facts and evidence.
"We all are dedicated officers trying to do a very tough job. We had no intention of using our firearms or hurting anyone that night.
"We were patrolling that night to help people in The Bronx feel safe in their neighborhood -- a neighborhood where the overwhelming population is law-abiding."
Officer Carroll, who has earned a total of 17 commendations, was a member of the elite Street Crime Unit that night.
In his 61/2 years on the force, together with partners, he has taken 30 illegal guns off the street and locked up guys who gave no indication they were going to use those weapons for hunting partridges in pear trees.
Carroll, who is also a Navy reservist, said: "It is unfortunate that people with their own agenda have turned this very sad matter into a divisive issue of race.
"That is so very sad. When the trial is over, I pray that we can get back to the real importance of racial healing.
"We did not commit any crime that night, and we were performing our duty in line with our training. Having said that, obviously, we would do anything to reverse the events surrounding that night.
"But I think above all, what hurts so much, is to know how much the Diallo family is suffering. Sure, I am thankful that we will face trial in a community that has not been whipped up by people who have things on their mind other than justice."
John Patten, Carroll's lawyer, said: "Sean, whether as an officer in the Police Department taking illegal guns off the street or in the Navy Reserve, is all about serving others.
"Frankly, I was disturbed when a completely independent poll showed that 81 percent of the people questioned in The Bronx had pre-judged the officers as being guilty.
"I don't for one minute think the overall population in The Bronx are unfair-minded. But it is human when you are deluged with the kind of publicity that surrounded this tragedy, and the way outsiders are using this case for their own particular reasons.
"It is very difficult to get an impartial jury, which justice is all about."
Officer Carroll reflects: "How do you say sorry to the Diallo family?
"I wish there was a stronger word, but, God, I have to say it -- I'll be sorry for the rest of my life, and my heart goes out to them in this time of their suffering."
Officer Carroll wakes from endless nights of fitful sleep: "It is almost like I'm sleeping with one eye shut and the other eye open."
But then he stirs and looks at his young kids: "And then I put myself in the place of the Diallo family."