The Chief
February 9, 2001

All Diallo Cops Cleared in U.S. Probe of Case

No 'Wrongful Intent' Found; Futures In P.D. Undecided

By William Van Auken

The decision by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District not to bring Federal criminal civil rights charges against four Police Officers who shot Amadou Diallo to death two years ago sparked protests by the West African immigrant's family and its supporters, as well as a call by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association for the NYPD to drop administrative charges against the cops and restore them to full duty.

Announced by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White Jan. 31, the decision came 11 months after the four officers - Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy - were acquitted on state criminal charges by an Albany County jury.

No Basis for Charges

Lawyers for the accused cops convinced a state Appellate Division panel to move the trial, arguing that public outrage over the shooting would preclude a fair proceeding anywhere in New York City.

"Mr. Diallo's death was a terrible tragedy, and our hearts will always be with the members of his family for their unbearable loss," Ms. White said in a statement. "We have, however, thoroughly investigated the circumstances surrounding Mr. Diallo's tragic death on Feb. 4, 1999, and concluded that Federal criminal civil rights charges are not warranted against any of the four Police Officers involved in the shooting."

Ms. White said that the determining question in the decision was whether "the officers willfully deprived Mr. Diallo of his constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force." This, she said, would require proof that the four cops acted with "specific intent" to use more force than was necessary.

The four officers fired 41 times at Mr. Diallo in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building, striking him 19 times. While the 22-year-old street vendor was unarmed, the officers said they fired in fear that a wallet he reached for was a gun.

In a statement supporting the decision, Acting Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that "with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we now know that something went terribly wrong on Feb. 4, 1999. Mr. Diallo, an unarmed individual, who committed no crime and no act of aggression, unnecessarily lost his life."

Need More Trust

Mr. Holder, who has since handed the reins of the Justice Department to President Bush's appointee, John Ashcroft, said that the incident demonstrated the need to develop increased trust between police departments and the communities they serve.

"Trust is achieved when all citizens are viewed by the police in the same manner," he said. "Trust is achieved when a community sees well-trained officers acting respectful1y, consistently and appropriately."

The fatal shooting sparked sustained protests at 1 Police Plaza as well as multiple investigations into the policies and practices of the NYPD and its Street Crime Unit.

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office, which launched a probe into stop-and-frisk procedures, recently complained that the NYPD has stopped providing it with data on its street stops. Mayor Giuliani confirmed the decision to stop cooperating with the investigation at a Jan. 31 press conference, maintaining that the city has already proven that there is no racial bias in the stops and calling the continued investigation a 'fishing expedition. "They've got to stop harassing the Police Department," said the Mayor.

Civil Suit Pending

While Ms. White's announcement closes the criminal side of the case, it is expected to accelerate a civil lawsuit in which the Diallo family is seeking $61 million in damages from the city.

The four officers also face a possible administrative trial. NYPD officials indicated that an investigation by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau and the Firearms Discharge Review Board is near completion.

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said the union believes no departmental trial is necessary. "We're glad that the Justice Department had the courage that an Albany jury had to listen to the case on the evidence and not on politics or emotion," he said. "We are hopeful that the New York City Police Department will do the same thing. We see no reason for them to have another trial."

Mr. Lynch said that the four cops, who are presently on modified assignment, having surrendered their firearms and shields, should be restored to full duty immediately.

Officers McMellon and Murphy have both passed written and physical tests to become Firefighters and apparently hope to leave the NYPD.

The police union leader said he disagreed with those who insist that the officers should be fired for their actions or voluntarily resign. "This shows the difficulties of doing the job of a New York City Police Officer," said Mr. Lynch. "We have to make decisions in a split second, and you can't take that split second back. It could happen to any Police Officer if you put the same circumstances together."

A Dissenting View

Lieut. Eric Adams, the leader of an African-American law-enforcement fraternal group, however, criticized the Justice Department decision and said it would be "irresponsible" for the Police Department to put the officers back on the street.

An administrative trial by the Police Department should not only determine whether the four cops violated NYPD guidelines on the use of deadly force, the Lieutenant said, but also investigate whether Mr. Diallo was targeted as part of the "racial profiling" that both the State Attorney General and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said characterized the Street Crime Unit's enforcement activities.

"Based on their own testimony and actions, these officers should not be given back their guns and badges," Lieutenant Adams said. "Any time fear prevents you from being a professional and protecting and serving, and instead makes you take life, you should no longer be a police officer. There are too many people out there who look like Amadou Diallo and have the potential of causing that fear again."

Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields expressed disappointment about the decision not to bring Federal civil rights charges against the four officers. She also took issue with Mayor Giuliani's decision to stop providing information to the U.S. Attorney's Office. "The Mayor has said that the Federal Government should stop harassing the NYPD," said Ms. Fields. "Perhaps he should consider that many people feel that being stopped and frisked is harassment against them."