October 22, 2005

Cop convicted in death

Judge finds officer guilty on lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide in shooting of unarmed immigrant


Bryan Conroy, the police officer whose first trial in the fatal shooting of an unarmed African immigrant in Chelsea ended in a hung jury, was convicted Friday of criminally negligent homicide.

A judge acquitted Conroy, 27, of Staten Island, of the more serious charge of reckless manslaughter in the death of Ousmane Zongo, 43, who was killed following a raid on a counterfeit CD and DVD operation at the Chelsea Mini Storage on May 22, 2003. Zongo, who repaired African art, was not involved in the counterfeiting operation.

State Supreme Court Justice Robert Straus of Manhattan, who rendered the verdict in a non-jury trial, found that Conroy did not act reasonably when he pulled his gun and shot Zongo. Conroy, who was undercover and dressed in his father's postal uniform, said he fired in a life-and-death struggle over his gun.

Zongo, the father of a boy, 9, and girl, 6, was hit four times, including at least once from behind, according to the evidence.

Conroy faces up to 4 years in prison, but also could receive probation.

If convicted of manslaughter he could have received up to 15 years. Sentencing was set for Dec. 2.

Leaving the courtroom Friday, Conroy shook hands with supporters. When he was asked how he felt about the verdict, his father, Arthur Conroy, answered instead.

"Disappointed, very disappointed," the father said.

Zongo's widow, Salimata Sanfo, who came to New York from Burkina Faso for the trial, praised the verdict.

"When I go back to Africa, I will tell everybody that justice can be had in the United States," she said through a translator.

Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney for the Zongo family, said the guilty verdict supports a $150-million civil case filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against the city and Conroy.

"We felt it was a civil rights violation, this killing," he said.

Rubenstein said he hoped the guilty verdict would mean a summary judgment on the issue of liability as that case moves forward.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, said the conviction would have a chilling effect on officers on the street.

"This judge was wrong," Lynch said. "The benefit of the doubt should always go to the police officer. . . Sometimes a judge is looking at the written word. ... A police officer cannot deal with every written letter of the law."

The conviction came in the second trial in the case. The first ended in a mistrial in March when the jury deadlocked 10-2 on the manslaughter charge. The defense then asked for a non-jury trial.

Defense attorney Stuart London expressed gratitude his client was acquitted of reckless manslaughter, but disappointment he wasn't exonerated.

"Officers should be allowed to defend themselves, and that's all Officer Conroy was doing on the day in question," he said.