Ex-Police Officer Cleared of Murder
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A former police officer accused of creating a Web site hostile toward blacks has been cleared in the shooting death of a black motorist during a chase.
Jeffrey Cooperstein, who is white, was acquitted of homicide Tuesday by a jury that deliberated eight hours over two days in Allegheny County Court.
``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.″
Cooperstein fired on Deron Grimmitt, 32, from outside his cruiser when Grimmitt’s car sped by after a chase by other officers. Cooperstein had said he feared the motorist would run him over.
Cooperstein said he did not know Grimmitt was black when he encountered the car at 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 21, 1998.
Prosecutors argued that Grimmitt was shot through the driver’s side window, not head-on as might be expected if he were driving toward the officer, suggesting his car would have passed Cooperstein without harming him.
However, an FBI firearms instructor testified that the bullet’s path didn’t implicate Cooperstein because he had to fire until he was sure the threat was gone.
Prosecutor Ed Borkowski also contended that Cooperstein, 44, 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 the issue.
Grimmitt’s mother, Bettye, said after the verdict 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.″
The chase began after an officer 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.
Cooperstein was fired after the shooting for allegedly violating department rules the night of the chase.
Cooperstein also was acquitted of aggravated assault against Grimmitt’s brother, Curtis, who was injured when the car his brother was driving crashed.
Marshall Hynes, president of the Pittsburgh lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the union will continue fighting to have Cooperstein reinstated.