Staten Island Advance
October 22, 2005

Island cop guilty in fatal shooting

Bryan Conroy faces 4 years in jail for death of Ousmane Zongo, though acquitted of top count

By JEFF HARRELL

Police Officer Bryan Conroy of Midland Beach was convicted yesterday of criminally negligent homicide in the shooting of Ousmane Zongo.

Conroy, 27, who claimed he was acting in self-defense when he shot Zongo, 43, four times in a Manhattan storage warehouse in May 2003, was acquitted of the more serious charge of manslaughter by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Robert Straus.

"Let the message go out to police officers all over this country, that if you kill an innocent person, you will be held accountable criminally," Sanford Rubenstein, attorney for the Zongo family, said after the verdict.

Assistant District Attorney Armand Durastanti argued during the trial that Conroy was "reckless," and that the shooting of the unarmed immigrant from the West African nation of Burkina Faso was "not justified."

Conroy faces up to four years in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 2. He would have faced up to 15 years if convicted of second-degree manslaughter.

Conroy stared straight ahead and showed no emotion when Straus announced the verdict in the bench trial, which began Sept. 26. Yesterday's hearing lasted less than 10 minutes and the judge did not explain his decisions.

Stuart London, Conroy's attorney, expressed disappointment at the guilty verdict but said he was gratified the judge did not convict the former Staten Island Task Force police officer of the top charge.

London added that Conroy's NYPD career is, "for all intents and purposes, now over."

"I am disappointed for [Conroy], who I believe committed no misconduct," London said. "This sends a difficult message to police officers who are in a situation where they need to defend themselves."

In March, a mistrial was declared in Conroy's first trial when jurors could not come to a unanimous decision but reportedly had voted 10-2 for conviction.

Zongo's widow, Salimata Sanfo, was present for both trials.

"The family feels good about the verdict," Rubenstein said. "Now [Ms. Sanfo] can go back to Burkina Faso to tell her children that their father did nothing wrong, that the police officer who did this was found guilty.

"And that's what she intends to do."

On May 22, 2003, Conroy was taking part in a Staten Island Task Force undercover raid on a counterfeit CD and DVD operation at a self-storage warehouse in Chelsea when he encountered Zongo, who repaired African art and musical instruments and had a workspace in the building.

Zongo had nothing to do with the counterfeit operation.

Conroy shot the unarmed African immigrant four times, at least once in the back, after a chase through the winding hallways of the warehouse. Zongo died in a hospital several hours later.

In three years as a cop, Conroy was credited with over than 100 arrests without a complaint and had never fired his gun prior to shooting Zongo. However, less than a year before the shooting, one of his immediate supervisors issued an internal memo recommending he be assigned to uniform patrol with senior officers, not undercover work, because of his lack of experience and maturity.

Reached by phone yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office said there would be "no comment" on the judge's decision.

Union officials vehemently criticized the verdict.

"As police officers, we face danger and uncertainty every time we go to work to protect this city," PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement. "This verdict holds a police officer criminally responsible for protecting himself, and that has to make cops wonder if it's worth the risk."

"These tragic circumstances caused the death of an innocent man, and that is deeply regrettable," Lynch added. "But it would be a far greater tragedy to allow this city to return to a crime-ridden state because police officers don't trust the city to give them the benefit of a doubt when something goes wrong."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a statement that read: "The death of Ousmane Zongo was a tragedy felt throughout our city, and today our criminal justice system has spoken. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time."

ASSOCIATED PRESS material was used in this report.

Jeff Harrell is a news reporter for the Advance. He may be reached at Harrell@siadvance.com.