New York Times
March 4, 2011

No Charges for Officers in Harlem Shooting


A special grand jury in Manhattan has declined to bring charges against four police officers who were involved in a fatal shooting and fired a total of 46 rounds while trying to break up a fight at a block party, according to a union that represents police officers.

The grand jury’s decision on Friday not to indict the officers came just two days after it declined to indict the man at the center of the chaotic scene last summer in Harlem.

“It is reassuring to see that this grand jury based its decision on the facts of the case and not on fiction from the streets,” said Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “If we are to do our work effectively, police officers must be reassured that any judgment of their actions will be made on a full and thorough review of facts and nothing more.”

On Wednesday, the grand jury decided not to charge Angel Alvarez, the 24-year-old man who was arrested last August during a confrontation in which another man was killed.

Mr. Alvarez had gotten into a fight with another man, Luis Soto, who Mr. Alvarez said had shot at him.

The police had accused Mr. Alvarez of shooting at them as they converged on the fight. In a frantic span of about 10 seconds, with about 500 people swarming the block, four officers fired, and Mr. Alvarez received 23 gunshot wounds.

Mr. Soto was killed, and ballistic tests indicated that the fatal bullet was probably fired by the police.

Mr. Alvarez said that he was left with “27 holes,” and his lawyers said that four bullets were still lodged in his body. The lawyers said on Thursday that their client was planning to sue the Police Department.

The four officers involved in the shooting were Sgt. Paul Kerrigan, Officer Michael Tedeschi, Officer Thomas Cozart and Officer Douglas Brightman.

In a preliminary hearing in August, another officer, Sgt. Philip Terpos, who arrived on the scene, described his conversation with Officer Brightman.

Sergeant Kerrigan testified that he was in a police van on Lenox Avenue between 143rd and 144th Streets when he heard gunfire.

About 30 seconds after the shooting stopped, Sergeant Terpos said, he approached Officer Brightman, who had fired shots and had his gun trained on Mr. Alvarez as he lay on the ground.

Sergeant Terpos asked Officer Brightman whether Mr. Alvarez had a gun and whether Mr. Alvarez had been shooting the gun.

Sergeant Terpos said that Officer Brightman responded that Mr. Alvarez did have a gun and that Officer Brightman said: “Yes, he shot at me.”

The last grand jury indictment of a police officer in Manhattan happened in 2004. It involved Bryan Conroy, an undercover officer who shot and killed an unarmed African immigrant named Ousmane Zongo during a raid in a Chelsea warehouse in May 2003. Officer Conroy was indicted on second-degree manslaughter charges.

But a trial jury deadlocked, and in 2005 a judge sentenced Officer Conroy to probation on the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide, a felony.

In a more recent well-known case, a grand jury indicted three police officers on various charges in the shooting of Sean Bell, who was shot to death in Queens during an encounter with the police the night before his wedding.

On April 25, 2008, Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who heard the case alone after the detectives waived their right to a jury, acquitted all three men of all the charges against them.