By TOM HAYS 02/ 3/12, New York Times
NEW YORK — The police department announced Friday that a narcotics officer and his sergeant have been stripped of their guns and put on desk duty amid an investigation of the officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed drug suspect within a few feet of the suspect’s grandmother inside the family home.
The measures came after the New York Police Department backed away from an initial account saying that the officer had struggled with 18-year-old Ramarley Graham at the door of a bathroom. Police said a bag of marijuana was found in the toilet, suggesting Graham was trying to flush it away before the gunfire erupted.
A grand jury was expected to investigate the shooting to determine if the officers should face criminal charges, said police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who expressed sympathy for the family.
“We’re obviously trying to get the facts,” Kelly said at a news conference. “A young man’s life was taken. … It’s the worst thing that can happen to a parent – to lose a child.”
The NYPD did not immediately release the name of the 30-year-old officer or the sergeant, whose conduct was under scrutiny because he was in charge of the officers who responded to the home.
The shooting stemmed from an NYPD investigation of street corner drug dealing in a Bronx neighborhood. On Thursday afternoon, a police observation team identified Graham as a potential suspect and radioed to other officers that he “appeared to be armed,” Kelly said. In a later transmission, the officers mistakenly reported that “they observed the butt of a gun in the waistband of (Graham),” he added.
A civilian witness told police that around the same time, two police officers in plain clothes but wearing NYPD raid jackets pulled up and yelled at a man – apparently Graham – “Police! Don’t move!” After the man ducked into Graham’s three-family home, the officers followed and found the front door locked.
The officers, after being joined by the sergeant and a fourth officer, entered through a back entrance, climbed some stairs and broke down the door to the Graham family’s second-floor apartment, Kelly said.
An officer positioned behind the shooter “reported seeing Ramarley Graham running toward them from the rear of the apartment and then turning into the bathroom,” Kelly said.
“The partner also reported hearing the shooting officer as he stood at the bathroom door yell, `Show me your hands. Show me your hands,’ and then, `Gun. Gun,'” Kelly said. “The partner then said he heard a shot.”
The officer fired one shot at close range from his 9mm semiautomatic handgun, police said. The victim was struck in the upper chest and collapsed inside the bathroom. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
A search of the apartment failed to turn up any weapons.
Asked about the initial report of a struggle, Kelly said the account of the shooting was revised after investigators interviewed the second officer and the grandmother.
“This was obviously a very traumatic situation for the grandmother,” Kelly said.
It was third time in a week that police had fatally shot a suspect: On Jan. 26, an off-duty NYPD officer killed a carjacking suspect during a shootout in Brooklyn. And on Sunday night, an off-duty detective shot a 17-year-old after police say the teen and another suspect hit the officer with a cane and tried to rob him in Brooklyn while he was walking to catch a subway to work. Neither of those officers was put on restricted duty.
In a fourth shooting involving the NYPD on Tuesday, a gunman shot an officer in the head after the officer responded to a report of shots fired in Brooklyn, police said. The shooter was caught about two hours after and was charged with attempted murder, they said. The wounded officer is expected to recover.
Story from Colorlines by Jorge Rivas, Friday, February 3 2012
Ramarley Graham, 18, was shot and killed by a NYPD officer in the Bronx on Thursday afternoon after running into his home as undercover officers pursued him. He’s the third person the NYPD have killed in a week. According to the police spokesperson, he was unarmed.
Paul J. Browne, the New York Police Department’s chief spokesman, said there was “no evidence that he was armed” when the officer, a member of a narcotics unit, shot him once in the upper left chest, the New York Times reports.
The Graham shooting is the third time in a week that a member of the NYPD had killed a suspect. On Jan. 26, an off-duty police lieutenant shot a 22-year-old carjacking suspect in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn. And on Sunday, an off-duty detective shot a 17-year-old in Bushwick, Brooklyn, during a mugging, authorities said.
In Graham’s case, police found a small bag of marijuana in the toilet at the home he entered after the pursuit, the NY Times reports. “It’s likely the story will thicken and the NYPD will argue the cop acted in self defense, but right now it looks like the cops killed a kid trying to get rid of a little pot,” said Seth Freed Wessler, Colorlines.com’s investigation reporter.
“Despite directives from the NYPD Commissioner to stop arresting people for simple possession of marijuana, the NYPD actually conducted more marijuana arrests in 2011 than in the previous year,” Wessler said.
In New York City, marijuana arrests strike people of color the hardest. Last year the NYPD made a near-record number of low-level marijuana arrests, making 2011 the second-most prolific period for marijuana arrests in NYC history. Close to 87 percent of those arrested for marijuana were black or Latino, while only 10 percent were white.
“The daily practice of harassing black and Latino kids with stop and frisk policing and then arresting them for simple possession of pot would be bad enough even if it did not lead to shootings. In this case in the Bronx, it looks like the day-to-day drug war left this 18-year-old kid dead,” Wessler said.