NEW YORK (AP) — A police officer was indicted Wednesday in the death of an unarmed drug suspect, the first time a New York City officer has faced criminal charges in a fatal shooting since a groom was killed in a 50-shot police barrage on his wedding day in 2006.
New York Police Department Officer Richard Haste, 30, surrendered Wednesday morning. Haste pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges in a courtroom filled with officers, relatives of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham and their supporters.
"We're not looking for revenge. We're looking for justice," the Rev. Al Sharpton, a family supporter, said afterward.
Dozens of officers applauded Haste, who was on crutches because of an unrelated accident, when he left the courthouse after posting $50,000 bail. As a police union official made a statement, a small group of protesters chanted anti-police slogans behind him.
The February shooting stemmed from an NYPD investigation of a persistent drug trade in the Bronx neighborhood where Graham lived. At the time, police said investigators identified Graham as a potential suspect and radioed to other officers that he appeared to be armed with a pistol.
A witness told police that around the same time, two officers wearing NYPD jackets pulled up and yelled at a man — apparently Graham — "Police! Don't move!" After the man ducked into Graham's three-family home, the officers found a back entrance, climbed some stairs and broke down the door to a second-floor apartment where Graham lived with his grandmother and other relatives, police said.
An officer positioned behind Haste reported seeing Graham run toward a bathroom, possibly to flush away some marijuana. He also heard Haste yell, "Show me your hands!" and "Gun! Gun!" before a shot rang out, police said.
"I thought he was going to shoot me so I shot him," Haste said in a court statement read by his lawyer, Stuart London.
The lawyer also said Haste yelled "show me your hands" and "police," and reiterated that other officers had radioed that Graham was armed.
Haste fired one shot at close range from his 9 mm semiautomatic handgun, police said. Graham was struck in the upper chest and collapsed in the bathroom. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
"Officer Haste consciously and deliberately pulled the trigger, shooting Ramarley Graham and causing his death," said Assistant District Attorney Donald Levin.
A search of the apartment failed to turn up any weapons. His family has said he was shot in front of his grandmother and his 6-year-old brother.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly ordered a review of whether training and tactics were sufficient in the street narcotics division, where Haste worked. The division differs from full-time narcotics police, who are more specialized.
Kelly said some adjustments were made to the unit after the review. An order was put out codifying requirements officers needed to meet before going into the unit, but he didn't specify what the changes were.
Outside the courthouse Wednesday, police union president Patrick Lynch said he respected the Graham family's grief, but called it a tragedy resulting from a difficult situation.
"Today, we're here to show support for a New York City police officer who was put in a terrible position doing a difficult job," Lynch said as the protesters chanted, "NYPD. KKK. How many kids will you kill today?"
The Graham family has called it a clear case of excessive force.
In the 2006 shooting, Sean Bell was killed in Queens on his wedding day as he and a group of friends left his bachelor party at a strip club. An undercover team thought Bell and his friends had weapons; none were found.
Three officers were charged criminally in that shooting, but were acquitted at trial in 2008. One of the detectives was found to have acted improperly during a departmental proceeding. All three were forced to resign in 2012.