N.Y. Cops Acquitted in Diallo Case
Feb. 26, 2000
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ Four white New York City police officers were acquitted of all charges Friday in the killing of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo, whose death in a barrage of 41 bullets touched off weeks of civil disobedience over police treatment of minorities.
The jury of four blacks and eight whites deliberated for more than 20 hours over three days before the forewoman, a former resident of the Bronx, intoned ``not guilty'' 24 times.
The officers had all contended that they fired in self-defense on Feb. 4, 1999, after Diallo, 22, reached for an object they thought was a gun while standing in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building. The object turned out to be a wallet. Diallo was hit 19 times.
The officers _ Sean Carroll, 37; Edward McMellon, 27; Kenneth Boss, 28; and Richard Murphy, 27 _ hugged one another and their lawyers after the verdicts were returned.
All four were charged with second-degree murder, but Justice Joseph Teresi said the jury could consider less serious charges, opening the door for a compromise verdict.
Still, the Albany jury, seated after an appeals court ruled that finding an impartial New York City jury was impossible, acquitted all four on counts from murder to reckless endangerment. The jurors, through the judge, said they would not speak to reporters.
Boss, the first defendant acquitted, closed his eyes and dropped his head in relief. Carroll, whose cry of ``Gun!'' started the shooting, sat dazed in his chair. The officer's families began weeping as it became clear that the defendants would be cleared.
Across the aisle, the Diallo family sat quietly as the repeated sound of ``not guilty'' echoed across the courtroom. As the courtroom emptied, the victim's mother, Kadiatou Diallo, stood with her cheeks streaked with tears.
Outside the courthouse, demonstrators chanted, ``No justice! No peace!'' A brief scuffle broke out among the Diallo supporters, with police moving in to break it up. Later, 15 demonstrators were charged with disorderly conduct for blocking a road between the state Capitol and City Hall, police said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton blamed the change of venue, by taking the case out of the Bronx, for the acquittal. ``We had no chance of real justice,'' he said.
But Sharpton, who led several protests after Diallo was killed, also pleaded for calm Friday night. ``We do not want to tarnish his name with any violence,'' he said. ``Let not one brick be thrown, not one bottle be thrown, not one evidence of violence come from us.''
There were no reports of violence in Diallo's neighborhood, where the verdict was almost unanimously condemned. Several hundred local residents marched on the local police precinct to protest, with two of them arrested for disorderly conduct.
The acquittal didn't end the legal problems for the officers, members of a roving plainclothes unit that allegedly stopped and frisked young black men without cause.
A civil suit was expected against the officers and the city in the next few weeks, and there was also the chance federal civil rights charges would be filed. The Justice Department did just that after four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.
``We have been monitoring the trial,'' Justice Department spokeswoman Myron Marlin said. ``Now we will review the case to see what, if any, federal action is required.''
Diallo's shooting, combined with the 1997 torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in a police station bathroom, led to criticism that police were being excessive in cracking down on crime under the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
After Diallo was killed, protesters gathered almost daily in acts of civil disobedience outside New York police headquarters. A judge eventually dismissed charges against the 1,166 people who were arrested, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, former Mayor David Dinkins, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, and actors Ossie Davis and Susan Sarandon.
After the verdict, Giuliani called the shooting ``a great tragedy'' and expressed sympathy for Diallo's family. The mayor said the verdict followed ``an eminently fair trial under very, very difficult circumstances.''
During the three-week trial, 29 witnesses testified, including the four officers. In sometimes tearful testimony, the defendants sought to convince jurors that Diallo, a street vendor from Guinea described by his family as a devout Muslim, forced them to shoot in self-defense.
The police version, echoed by each of the defendants, held that Diallo was acting strangely as they combed the neighborhood for a suspected rapist. They said he ignored repeated warnings by Carroll and McMellon to ``Stop!'' and ``Show your hands!''
The officers said the 5-foot-6, 150-pound Diallo darted into the dimly lit entrance of his building and drew a black object that looked like a gun. Boss recalled that Diallo was in a ``combat stance.'' The officers said they feared for their lives and opened fire.
Carroll and McMellon, the first to shoot, emptied their 16-shot guns. Boss fired five times and Murphy four while backing up their partners.
Carroll wept on the stand while recalling the shock of realizing the black object ``was just a wallet. ... I said, `Where's the (expletive) gun?'''
Although one witness said she heard an officer shout ``Gun!'' before the shooting started, several prosecution ``ear witnesses'' testified they never heard the officers' voices before gunfire erupted.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Eric Warner told jurors Diallo ``never stood a chance'' after the officers made a snap judgment that he was a suspect lurking around a bad neighborhood. A coroner had testified that most of the bullets probably struck Diallo as he was falling or flat on his back.
Carroll's attorney, John Patten, argued the officers made a split-second decision to defend themselves. Ricocheting bullets made them believe a gunfight had erupted, he said. And McMellon fell at one point, creating the mistaken impression he had been shot, the defense said.
``I think it's terrible,'' said Freddie Montalvo, who lives in Diallo's neighborhood. ``It sends the wrong message to young cops: They can get away with it.''