NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The family of an unarmed Bronx teenager killed by an NYPD officer has vowed to continue fighting, after a judge threw out an indictment against the cop on Wednesday.
The decision fueled an emotional day in court, with an outburst by the victim’s mother and a vow by prosecutors to still pursue the case, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
Bronx Judge Steven Barrett found that prosecutors gave flawed instructions to the grand jury that indicted Officer Richard Haste. He pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges last year in connection with the death of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham.
“We believe that inadvertently, the district attorney’s instructions did mislead the jury, and did so to an extent that I cannot in good conscience disregard,” Barrett said.
Constance Malcolm, Graham’s mother, screamed “they killed my child” when it became clear that Barrett was about to rule in favor of Haste. Court officers immediately removed her.
When order was restored, Barrett told spectators, “I regret that there are people who are hurt by this,” but insisted that the law required him to dismiss the indictment.
As Haste left the courtroom, protesters yelled, “Murderer!” The officer did not speak to news reporters.
“The emotions are self-evident,” said Graham family attorney Royce Russell. “It’s disappointment, and it’s sorrow, but they stand strong, and they ready to seek their time in space, in justice, in history where a police officer is not only indicted, he’s convicted for murdering their son.”
Graham was shot and killed in the bathroom of his Bronx home on Feb. 2, 2012, after police said narcotics officers spotted him on the street adjusting his waistband and thought he had a gun.
Police said officers confronted Graham in his bathroom as he tried to flush marijuana down the toilet. Moments later, Graham was shot in the chest, collapsed and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Haste’s lawyer, Stuart London, has said his client yelled “show me your hands” and “police” and reiterated that other officers had radioed that Graham was armed.
New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said the officer’s point of view was not acknowledged in the indictment.
“What about the mindset of the police officer?” Lynch said. “So the information that was left out was critical – so we believe the judge made the right decision in throwing it out.”
Police said they believed the teen was armed with a gun, but a gun was never recovered. Graham’s family said the teen’s grandmother and 6-year-old brother were inside the house at the time of the shooting.
The judge ruled that prosecutors, in giving instructions to grand jurors, had improperly left the impression the jury shouldn’t consider evidence that other officers had radioed Haste in advance to warn him that they thought Graham had a gun. The defense claimed that was one of the reasons Haste used deadly force. Haste has said he believed Graham had a gun and was going to shoot him.
“If effect, the grand jury was told communications of other officers were not relevant,” the judge said. “With not great pleasure, I’m obliged in this case to dismiss the charges.”
The judge stressed that he didn’t believe that prosecutors deliberately misled the grand jury and he wouldn’t bar them from seeking another indictment.
Prosecutors said in a statement that they would either appeal the decision or present the case again to the grand jury.
“It cannot be said more forcefully that we disagree with the court,” the office of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson said. “As we await the court’s written decision, we will begin the process of weighing which of the options — appeal of the decision or representation to the grand jury — better serve the people of the Bronx.”
Members of Graham’s family rallied Wednesday morning after the ruling.
“If it means going back to the grand jury or if we have to ask the federal court to deal with this case, we are going to keep fighting no matter what,” Graham’s father, Frank Graham, said. “We will never stop until justice is served in this case, until Richard Haste goes to prison for murdering our son.”
“I am ready to take it to the streets and the highest of the highest,” Malcolm said. “Please be prepared for a major protest.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has worked with Graham’s family, called the judge’s decision “an outrageous miscarriage of justice and an insult to the family and supporters of Ramarley Graham.”
But Lynch said the judge’s ruling was the right one.
“We believe the judge made a difficult but correct decision,” Lynch said.
After Graham’s death, hundreds of Bronx residents took the streets to protest the shooting.
Authorities previously said Graham had at least two prior arrests for marijuana and burglary. Haste was placed on modified duty after the incident.
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