White Ex-Cop Cleared of Charges
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A white former police officer suspected of writing a Web page hostile toward to blacks was cleared Tuesday in the shooting death of a black motorist during a chase in 1998.
Jeffrey Cooperstein, 44, was acquitted of homicide and aggravated assault after a jury deliberated for eight hours over two days in Allegheny County Court.
Cooperstein had said he feared the motorist, Deron Grimmitt, 32, would run him over.
Prosecutors said Grimmitt was shot through the driver’s side window, not head-on as might be expected if he were driving toward the officer. However, an FBI firearms instructor testified that the bullet’s path doesn’t implicate Cooperstein because he had to fire until he was sure the threat was gone.
``This is a victory in the legal sense of the word, but there’s no victory when a man has lost his life,″ Cooperstein said. There’s not a day in my life I don’t wonder what would have happened if I could have talked five minutes to him.″
Prosecutor Ed Borkowski had contended that Cooperstein was the Blue Knight, the pen name of whoever posted writings on an Internet site that was critical of police management and hostile toward blacks. Cooperstein has declined to say whether he is the Blue Knight, and in closing arguments, defense attorney Samuel Reich said ``so what″ about testimony that Cooperstein admitted being the Blue Knight.
Grimmitt’s relatives were silent in court after the verdict was read.
Later, Grimmitt’s mother, Bettye, said it was ``open season on young black men.″ She said Cooperstein, whom she has sued, ``will answer to God on that Judgment Day, and I am glad there is a higher power.″
Cooperstein said he did not know Grimmitt was black when he encountered the car at 3:30 a.m.
An officer had followed Grimmitt to see why he had slowed down to watch police question suspects on a nearby street. Grimmitt, who was wanted on a parole violation, fled because he did not want to be jailed at Christmas, said Curtis Grimmitt, his brother.
Police officers testified that during the chase, Grimmitt’s car crossed the center line of a street and was bearing down on Cooperstein. Curtis Grimmitt said his brother stayed in the right lane, opposite from Cooperstein and his parked cruiser.
Cooperstein also was acquitted of assault against Curtis Grimmitt.
Cooperstein was fired after the shooting. Marshall Hynes, president of the Pittsburgh lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the union will continue fighting to have him reinstated.