For the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio, the case is closed on the shooting death of Ramarley Graham: the officer involved, Richard Haste, resigned on Sunday after learning the results of a long-awaited departmental trial.
Five years ago, Haste chased 18-year-old Graham into Graham’s Bronx apartment on the suspicion of having a weapon. In the apartment, the officer fatally shot Graham, who was allegedly reaching for his waistband. A gun was never found.
Haste has long been on modified duty without a badge or gun; a Bronx grand jury indicted him in 2012, but a judge dismissed the manslaughter charge on a technicality. In 2013, a second grand jury voted not to indict Haste. A federal investigation closed without charges being filed, meaning both Haste and Graham’s family have been in limbo waiting for an internal departmental trial while the world changed around them.
This week, the Haste case ended quietly but definitively. Police say Haste used poor tactical judgment and the deputy commissioner overseeing the internal January trial recommended his dismissal Friday. Before he could be fired, Haste quit. Case closed.
Clear victories, but elusive justice
In a statement regarding Graham, de Blasio said, “I hope the conclusion of this difficult process brings some measure of justice to those who loved him.” But Graham’s family still feels that justice is elusive.
There are clear victories here, and clear changes since February 2012, when Graham was walking away from a deli that happened to be under surveillance by a newly formed narcotics unit. He drew attention of the unit by “walking with purpose,” witnesses said at the departmental trial. Family members say he was walking while black.
You can go through the grim pluses and minuses of the outcome for the officer: Graham’s family had long railed that Haste continued drawing a paycheck, for example.
Haste no longer does. According to police spokesman Lt. John Grimpel, because Haste “did not leave with good standing” he forfeits his pension except for whatever funds he paid in. And he will not take a department gun with him, a perk often extended to retiring officers.
In a news conference Monday, Graham’s family and supporters railed against letting Haste resign rather than firing him. That appears to be a narrow distinction in practice, though perhaps it helps Haste’s future employability. It looks “better on your resume,” says Joseph Giacalone, an adjunct professor in John Jay College’s Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration Department. Giacalone says there’s little chance Haste would be hired by another police department, but perhaps in another field, somewhere else, not being fired might matter: “a chance to get out of Dodge so to speak.”
What about the other officers associated with the shooting? They are still on the force, to Graham’s family’s dismay. They have been hit with administrative charges, as had Haste, but their trials have not been scheduled.
As to the system at large? Police shootings have received renewed attention since 2012, with President Barack Obama and his Justice Department increasing oversight on some local police departments. The shootings and deaths have galvanized mass protests. In NYC, de Blasio’s Sunday night statement mentioned improvements at the NYPD under his watch, from better community relations to transparency via initiatives like body cameras.
He could have mentioned the precipitous drop in stop-and-frisk policing, which began at the end of the Bloomberg administration, and then powered de Blasio’s campaign and continues in his mayoralty. That has been a sea-change in NYC policing.
But many advocates find de Blasio lacking on actual additional change and transparency. Body cameras have been much delayed, hardly deployed, and are only potentially helpful. Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer involved in the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island, is still on the force and earning overtime. And the mayor has embraced a decision by the department that shields officers’ disciplinary records, citing a new interpretation of an existing state law. That law helped de Blasio keep Graham’s mother, Constance Malcolm, at arm’s length when she wanted to know when there would be a trial, and what would occur.
Mostly there’s the question of why this decision to dismiss took so long.
What took so long?
Malcolm and her supporters held a news conference on Monday pushing for more charges, more information, really just something more in the wake of the death of her son in his own home half a decade ago. “Today it’s my child,” she said, “tomorrow it could be yours.”
As supporters took their turn at the mic and vowed continued focus, two women approached the rally from the back. They had been in the neighborhood for an appointment.
“What is this?” asked the taller woman, Patricia Scipio, clutching an umbrella. She was handed a Ramarley Graham flyer. A longtime Brooklynite, she instantly recognized the story. “It took five years,” she marveled, shuffling the umbrella to hold up the flyer for news cameras for a few minutes before moving on.
After, Scipio, 54, explained to her friend what was happening in simple terms. “They fired the police who shot that boy.”
The friend was surprised. “They just fired him? Oh my god.”
“It shouldn’t take that long,” Scipio agreed.