A failure to indict killer police

May 14, 2012

Don Lash reports on the decision by a Westchester County grand jury to not indict the officers that broke into Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.'s home and killed him.

THE DECISION of a grand jury in Westchester County, New York, to not indict any police officers in the shooting death of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. has sparked anger and outrage from Chamberlain's family and others seeking justice.

Chamberlain, a 68-year-old former Marine and prison guard, was Tasered and then shot with bean bags and live bullets after police burst into his apartment in White Plains, N.Y., outside New York City, on November 19, 2011.

The police who came to Chamberlain's apartment in a White Plains housing project at 5 a.m. weren't responding to reports of a crime in progress, but a possible medical problem, after Chamberlain set off a Life Alert pendant, probably by accident in his sleep. A recording by the medical device in his home captured the horrific crime that was to follow.

Despite the fact that Chamberlain told police he was fine, and the Life Alert company also reported the false alarm, police demanded to enter the apartment. When Chamberlain said through the closed door that he was okay, one officer responded, "We don't give a fuck." Another officer can be heard referring to Chamberlain as a "nigger" and making a mocking reference to his Marine service.

Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. (second from right) listens as lawyers discuss why the officers who killed his father won't be charged
Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. (second from right) listens as lawyers discuss why the officers who killed his father won't be charged

Police then took Chamberlain's door off the hinges. They claim he threatened them with a knife before they attacked. Chamberlain's family disputes this, saying that video taken after the door was removed shows Chamberlain standing inside his apartment, wearing only boxer shorts, with his arms at his side and his hands empty.

The outrage sparked by the police killing of Chamberlain grew, especially in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, along with several other cases of police killings in New York and elsewhere. Chamberlain's family refuses to quietly accept his killing, speaking out instead to the media, and with an online petition demanding justice that has garnered thousands of signatures.

Finally, last month, it was announced that a grand jury would convene to consider bringing charges against the officers in the case.

THE HOPE of getting justice for the murder of Kenneth Chamberlain was short-lived, however.

On May 3, 2012, a grand jury in Westchester County, New York, voted not to indict any police officers in the shooting. In announcing the decision , Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore presented it as the result of an independent review of the evidence.

But grand jury proceedings are completely secret and controlled by the prosecutor, so the failure to indict almost always means the DA didn't want an indictment. The fact that DiFiore waited months to convene a grand jury, and reluctantly did so only after the Chamberlain family generated media attention about the shooting, suggests where her sympathies lie.

In addition, she refused to reveal the name of the shooter, and confirmed his identity only after newspaper reporters discovered it was Officer Anthony Carelli. Carelli is currently being sued by two Jordanian immigrants claiming that he and other officers beat them with batons while they were handcuffed to a pole. They claim Carelli referred to them as "ragheads."

Additionally, police initially shielded the identify of another officer, who is heard on the tape, yelling at Kenneth Chambelain, "We have to talk, nigger!" Eventually, lawyers for the Chamberlain family revealed that officer to be Officer Steven Hart. Hart is also being sued in federal court by a Hispanic bank manager who claims Hart beat him during an arrest.

The Chamberlain family has stated that it will not accept the results of the grand jury process, and is pressing on with a civil suit and demands for a federal investigation.

After a service at Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church during which Rev. Calvin Butts compared the Chamberlain killing to those of Trayvon Martin and Ramarley Graham, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. said, "My father is not here anymore...I refuse to mourn him until there is some justice for my father. And when I say that I mean indictments. Criminal indictments."

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which includes Westchester County, has agreed to review the case.

Kenneth Chamberlain's death is not the only case of this kind of gross injustice in Westchester County. In 2008, a 23-year old Black man name Christopher Ridley, an off-duty Mount Vernon cop, was shot and killed by a white officer as he tried to break up a fight on the street. Ridley's family alleges in a pending lawsuit that DiFiore participated in a cover-up and engineered a grand jury decision not to issue indictments in the case.

Then, in 2010, a 20-year old unarmed Black college student name Danroy Henry was fatally shot in his car by a police officer who claimed the young man was trying to run him over as he fled. The police version is disputed by eyewitnesses, who say that Henry never tried to flee, and was attempting to comply with a police directive to move his car from a fire lane when he was shot.

Remarkably, Henry was bleeding to death in handcuffs while an ambulance crew prioritized an officer's minor leg injury, prompting a classmate of Henry's to step in and administer chest compressions in an attempt to keep him alive. Henry's family urged the appointment of an independent prosecutor to take the investigation away from DiFiore.

THE EVIDENCE in the Chamberlain case has now been made public, including a series of four calls from the medical alert company. It clearly shows that police unnecessarily escalated the situation leading to Chamberlain's death.

In the second call, the company dispatcher tells a police dispatcher that the company has made contact with Chamberlain and confirmed he is okay. The company dispatcher attempts to cancel the emergency call, but the police dispatcher says police want to enter Mr. Chamberlain's home anyway.

In a third call, the medical dispatcher attempts to patch Kenneth Chamberlain's sister through to police, but the police dispatcher dismisses her offer by saying they don't want to "mediate."

In a fourth, the medical company dispatcher again attempts to relate an offer to have Chamberlain's son called to help deescalate the police confrontation. Eventually, the dispatcher takes a phone number for Chamberlain's sister, but apparently never made contact.

Police and local news accounts have highlighted Chamberlain's angry refusal to allow the police entry into his home, and the fact that he had consumed alcohol in his home. Left unexplained, however, is why police were so intent on gaining entry even when they were aware that the call was a false alarm.

Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. had committed no crime, and police had no warrant or probable cause to believe that a crime was in progress. While they have characterized him as "delusional" and "emotionally disturbed," police have not explained why pounding on his door in an effort to force entry, mocking his military service and calling him "nigger" were the best tactics to gain control of the situation--or why they repeatedly spurned offers of help from his family.

In one of the chilling recording, immediately before the door is taken off its hinges, Chamberlain announced that police were about to break down his door and do him harm. As it turns out, this is the most accurate testimony on the encounter available.

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