January 31, 2004

Grand Jury Begins Probe of Shooting

By Sean Gardiner and Leonard Levitt STAFF WRITERS

A grand jury started its investigation Friday into the controversial police shooting of an unarmed Bedford-Stuyvesant teenager one week ago.

According to a law enforcement source, a grand jury already sitting in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn began hearing from witnesses to the Jan. 24 shooting of Timothy Stansbury Jr., 19.

The source said the grand jury recessed for the weekend Friday and will resume hearing testimony Monday.

It is expected to take at least a week for the jury to hear evidence before its members decide whether charges should be brought against Officer Richard Neri, 35, who shot Stansbury at about 1 a.m. on Jan. 24, the source said.

At the time of the shooting, Neri and his partner, both assigned to the Police Department's Housing Bureau, were on the roof of 385 Lexington Ave. in the Louis Armstrong Houses, about to descend into a stairwell to conduct a "vertical patrol" of the building.

Neri and friends were returning to a party in the adjacent apartment building after having retrieved music CDs, and planned to cross over the roof.

Sources close to Neri said that after his partner yanked open the rooftop door, Neri, who had drawn his gun, was startled by Stansbury, who was standing in the doorway. Neri jerked his hand, sources said, and his gun discharged.

Neri is said to be leaning toward telling the grand jury his side of the story, according to a source close to the officer.

At a news conference about 12 hours after the shooting, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said "there appears to be no justification" for Neri pulling the trigger. Patrick Lynch, president of the police officers' union, condemned Kelly's characterization as being too quick and declared that the commissioner "is not standing behind the police officers."

Newsday learned that Kelly and Lynch met privately in the police commissioner's office on Wednesday.

Lynch's spokesman, Al O'Leary, described the meeting as "lengthy."

"Lynch is concerned that the commissioner's premature conclusion could impact on the investigation and make his characterization of the shooting a self-fulfilling prophecy. This prompted Lynch to ask for a meeting with Kelly so that he could air his concerns."