Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced on Tuesday that his office would not bring federal civil rights charges against the NYPD officer who shot and killed Ramarley Graham, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man killed in a controversial incident in his family’s Bronx apartment in 2012.
Bharara’s office said Off. Richard Haste was told by a narcotics surveillance team that Graham might have a firearm, and claimed Graham reached into his waistband when confronted in a bathroom, causing the officer to fear for his life. There were no other witnesses to the confrontation, prosecutors said.
“Although Officer Haste ultimately was proven to be mistaken in his belief, the determination as to the willfulness of his actions must be assessed in light of his knowledge at the time of the shooting,” the office said in a statement issued after a private meeting with Graham’s family.
Bharara’s office said he “expressed his deep sympathy to the family,” but Frank Graham, the father of Ramarley, said the decision was a disappointment, following on a decision by a Bronx grand jury to not indict for manslaughter.
“It’s like opening old wounds,” Graham said. “It hurts to know my son didn’t commit a crime, wasn’t wanted, didn’t do anything, and was killed in his own home. Two different government bodies say yes, it’s a mistake, but we can’t do nothing about it.”
Graham said the family would push “full blast” for Haste and other officers involved in the incident to be fired now that the investigation is over. They said they were convinced that it wouldn’t have happened and that someone would have been punished if Ramarley were white.
“I’m asking now, do black lives matter?” he said. “I personally believe it would have never happened if it had been a Caucasian kid. . . . What do you say to these young kids now? How do these young kids feel their lives matter when someone can run into your own house and kill them?”
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch said he was “gratified” by the decision.
“There is no winner here,” Lynch said in a statement. “The officer was working to combat the scourge of guns and drugs in the community. The good faith effort to combat those ills brought us to this tragedy. We extend our sympathies to the family.”
In its statement, the U.S. attorney’s office emphasized the difficulty of proving federal civil rights charges — a key factor in the ongoing probe by Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers’ office into the NYPD’s apparent choking death of Eric Garner on Staten Island.
“Prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right,” Bharara’s office said. “Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient.”
Haste was indicted on a charge of manslaughter by a Bronx grand jury after the shooting, but the indictment was thrown out because of an incorrect legal instruction, and a subsequent grand jury did not approve charges. Last year, New York City settled a civil suit by the family for $3.9 million.