White Plains cop in Chamberlain case suspended
VideosExpert: Video shows police followed protocol in Kenneth Chamberlain death DA: Racial slur in police shooting death to be investigated Grand jury clears White Plains officer who shot Kenneth Chamberlain
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The White Plains police officer accused of hurling a racial slur at Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. during the confrontation where another white police officer shot and killed the African-American former Marine has been suspended without pay, Public Safety Commissioner David Chong said.
Officer Steven Hart was served with misconduct charges Friday for his alleged use of the N-word during the Nov. 19, 2011, standoff between police and Chamberlain at Chamberlain's apartment.
Chong said Hart faces possible dismissal from the police force.
Hart, 33, an 11-year veteran of the police force, denied uttering any slur against Chamberlain.
"Officer Hart unequivocally denies using any racial term," said his lawyer, John Pappalardo. "He is not a racist. There has been nothing in his distinguished 11-year history as a police officer to demonstrate otherwise."
Law enforcement officials with access to audio and video recordings of the incident have said a slur was used once, but have not identified the officer who used the slur. They deny there was any repetition of a racial slur.
Hart has until July 30 to respond to the charges, Chong said. He is entitled to a hearing, Chong said. If found to have committed misconduct, he faces discipline that ranges from reprimand to dismissal.
Chong declined to comment beyond releasing the suspension notice.
The Chamberlain family welcomed Chong's decision to suspend Hart, who is white, but wants further investigation into the use of racial slurs during the incident.
"My own review of audio tapes of the incident shows the (racial slur) was used more than once," lawyer Mayo Bartlett said, "and it could have been used by more than one officer."
Hart should be fired from the police force, he said.
"It's unacceptable to have an officer who is willing to resort to such behavior under any circumstances," he said
A phone number for Hart, 33, was disconnected Friday.
Robert Riley, the president of the White Plains Police Benevolent Association, said he planned to meet with Hart Saturday to review the charges.
"I can't comment until I've seen the charges," he said. "I do find it peculiar the department released this information to the media which they never have before....We continue to support these officers and their families."
Chamberlain's family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Manhattan seeking $21 million in damages from the City of White Plains, the city Housing Authority, and police officers involved in the incident -- including Hart and Officer Anthony Carelli, the officer who shot Chamberlain. Both officers are members of the elite tactical Neighborhood Conditions Unit, which has come under fire in the wake of the Chamberlain incident.
On May 3, Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore announced that a county grand jury had voted not to indict Carelli in the shooting.
The police account of the incident is that Carelli shot Chamberlain as Chamberlain advanced toward police Sgt. Keith Martin with a knife. According to the police account, Carelli believed that Martin's life was in danger.
The shooting followed a two-hour standoff at Chamberlain's apartment door in the Winbrook Public Housing complex on South Lexington Avenue. Police went to the apartment after Chamberlain accidentally activated a medical alert bracelet he was wearing. That triggered a call to police and paramedics.
Police said Chamberlain threatened them with a knife and meat cleaver as they used a master key to open the door to the apartment and after encountering a chain lock, removed the door from its hinges.
During the standoff, Hart went outside the building, tapped on Chamberlain's window and called to him in an effort to distract him, police said. It was then that he hurled the slur at Chamberlain, Chamberlain's family said.
DiFiore said during a press conference that an officer had used the offensive racial slur and condemned it. Chong, too, said the use of racial slurs by any officer was unacceptable.
Carelli, who is also white, shot Chamberlain only after cops first fired bean bags and then used a stun gun to try to stop his advance, police said.
The day after DiFiore announced the grand jury's findings, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said his office would review the case to determine whether to open a federal criminal civil rights investigation. Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. and his lawyers met with officials from Bharara's office last month.
Bartlett said Friday Hart's suspension was "a good start."
"The department needs to review and address the conduct of all the officers involved in the incident," he said.