Officer, tactics under scrutiny in Brooklyn shooting
By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
Associated Press Writer
January 25, 2004, 7:13 PM EST
NEW YORK -- A Brooklyn grand jury this week will consider charges including murder against the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teenager Saturday in the stairwell of a Bedford-Stuyvesant housing complex, law-enforcement officials said.
The broader issue of tactics and training also came under scrutiny as the police department and some of its critics began to weigh whether the killing of Timothy Stansbury Jr. indicates a broader problem with the way officers patrol public housing.
The department's chief spokesman said Sunday that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly would convene a special panel of borough-level commanders Monday to review tactical and training issues arising from the pre-dawn killing.
Stansbury was shot once in the chest as he pushed open a red metal door to the roof of the Louis Armstrong Houses around 1:30 a.m. Saturday. Housing Officer Richard Neri, who had his gun drawn, was pulling the door from the other side as part of a routine stairwell and rooftop patrol called a vertical that he was conducting with his partner.
Stansbury, who was black, was a 19-year-old senior at Thomas Jefferson High School who worked part-time at a McDonald's, relatives said.
Neri, who is white, is an 11-year veteran who had never fired his gun in the line of duty, police said.
Kelly called a press conference hours after the shooting and labeled Stansbury's killing "unjustified." The officer was told to surrender his badge and gun and report for restricted duty.
Even for Kelly, who has been swifter than many of his predecessors to accept police culpability in racially charged shootings, the statement was unusual for the speed and certainty with which it assigned fault to the police.
It provoked condemnation from the city's police union Sunday.
"It's absolutely wrong for police Commissioner Kelly to have jumped to a conclusion," Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said in a prepared statement. "This investigation should be allowed to move forward without being tainted by politics or comments by Commissioner Kelly or others."
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes moved with similarly unusual swiftness to bring the case before a grand jury, which was to consider charges ranging from manslaughter to murder as early as Wednesday, law-enforcement officials said.
Kelly said Saturday that it was not unusual for police to patrol rooftops with pistols in hand. Lt. Eric Adams, the head of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, said Sunday that officers too readily unholstered their weapons in public housing projects, placing innocent residents at risk.
Standing in front of an impromptu memorial to Stansbury at the entrance of the four-story red-brick building where the teen was killed, Adams called for a review of how officers are told to draw their weapons on patrol.
He said that Public Service Area 3, the housing police district where Neri was assigned, saw at least six shootings of suspects or dangerous dogs last year, which he called an unusual number.
Adams said officers often encountered menacing dogs such as pit bulls on public housing rooftops where their owners had taken them to exercise. The encounters left officers fearful for their safety and may be why Neri had his gun drawn, Adams said.
Residents of Stansbury's building said police had shot a neighbor's pit bull on the roof last year.
"Our agency should have said we need to look at this and teach officers how to enter the roofs," Adams said. "This shooting should not be viewed in a vacuum."
James O'Keefe, a criminal justice professor and former training director for the New York police academy, said officers were taught to draw their guns in situations where they felt at risk. A rooftop that had been the site of a previous dog attack was almost certainly such a place, he said.
The police department said statistics on police shootings in PSA 3 and comparable areas were not immediately available.
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I think it's time the community polices itself.