January 27, 2004

Union seeks 'fairness' in police shooting of unarmed teen

By TOM HAYS Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK -- Police union officials urged Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes on Tuesday to ignore outside pressure to charge an officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager on a housing project rooftop.

"We're only here for fairness, for the decision to be based on facts, not emotion," Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch told reporters following a closed-door meeting at Hynes' office.

Lynch met with Hynes amid demands by the victim's family to charge the officer, and reports that prosecutors believe an indictment of Officer Richard Neri was likely.

Three witnesses _ Neri's partner and two friends of the victim, Timothy Stansbury Jr. _ have said the officer fired suddenly and without warning.

Police officials said Tuesday that they had located a fourth person who, though not an eyewitness, "has information relevant to the investigation." They declined to elaborate.

Hynes has announced that a grand jury will soon hear the case. Based on eyewitness accounts and other evidence, the jurors could be asked to indict Neri on charges of criminally negligent homicide or second-degree manslaughter.

Neri's lawyer has said his client may testify before the grand jury, which could begin hearing the case this week.

The testimony could clear up "what happened on the roof that day," Lynch said. "Only he knows whether this was an accident, or did he perceive a danger?"

Hynes assured Lynch that the case would be pursued dispassionately, PBA spokesman Al O'Leary said. The district attorney met Monday with the victim's parents.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly angered union officials by saying only hours after the shooting that it appeared unjustified. On Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended Kelly's remarks.

"It looked to us pretty obvious that there was no justification that we could see at the time, and the public had a right to know," the mayor said.

Stansbury, 19, was shot on Saturday while Neri and his partner were on a routine rooftop patrol of the Louis Armstrong Houses in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section.

According to Neri's partner, the shooting occurred after he tried to pull open the door so that Neri, his gun drawn, could peer inside for any lurking drug suspects, authorities said.

Stansbury startled the officers by pushing the door open in a way that made it appear he was moving toward Neri, the partner told investigators. Neri responded by firing one shot without warning.

The two friends of Stansbury who witnessed the shooting claim the victim made no sudden moves and never got beyond the stairwell landing, authorities said.