NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City police officer who shot an unarmed teenager to death will not face federal civil rights charges, officials announced Tuesday, closing an investigation into a case activists have invoked in decrying police killings of black men.
There wasn’t enough evidence to support charges in the 2012 death of Ramarley Graham, who was shot in the bathroom of his Bronx home by an officer who had followed him inside during a drug investigation, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office said in a statement.
The decision ends the possibility of criminal charges against Officer Richard Haste, who was indicted earlier on a state manslaughter charge that a judge dismissed, saying prosecutors had improperly instructed grand jurors. Another grand jury then declined to re-indict Haste, who said he fired at the 18-year-old Graham because he thought he was going to be shot. Graham was black; Haste is white.
Haste’s lawyer, Stuart London, said the officer was gratified by federal prosecutors’ decision.
“There never were any winners in this case,” he said.
Graham’s mother, Constance Malcolm, said she wasn’t surprised to see the federal probe end without charges.
“I didn’t have no faith in the system” after seeing what happened in the state case, she said by phone. “With the (federal prosecutors), I already had my guard up.”
Graham’s parents (pictured) and civil rights activists held an overnight protest last month at Bharara’s office, sleeping on the concrete steps of the Manhattan office building to protest what they believed was a lag in the investigation.
Graham’s relatives, who settled a lawsuit against the city for $3.9 million, are now focusing on pressing the New York Police Department to fire Haste and other officers involved in the moments surrounding Graham’s death.
Haste is expected now to face disciplinary charges that could result in a punishment as light as losing vacation days or as serious as firing.
According to Bharara’s office, narcotics officers watching a Bronx corner store on Feb. 2, 2012, spotted Graham outside it, adjusting his pants in a way officers thought might indicate a gun, and they radioed his description to other officers.
Haste heard the description and confronted Graham, who went into his house. Officers forced their way inside and Haste ordered Graham to put up his hands and followed him to the bathroom.
Haste told authorities he though Graham was reaching for a gun and fired. But police found no weapons in the apartment. Graham’s grandmother and 6-year-old brother were also home when the shot hit the teen’s chest.
The Graham family’s lawyer, Royce Russell, said the relatives had hoped the case would at least be brought to a federal grand jury.
But prosecutors noted that in order to bring charges, they would have to establish that Haste didn’t have probable cause to believe he or other officers were in danger of death or serious injury. And prosecutors said they found no evidence to refute Haste’s claim that he believed Graham was going for a gun.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch, who heads the NYPD officers’ union, said Haste acted while making a “good-faith effort” to combat serious public problems” guns and drugs.
But the Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy at Graham’s funeral, said the federal prosecutors’ decision was “very painful” for both Graham’s family and the public.
Graham’s death has been cited during numerous demonstrations after grand juries in Missouri and New York declined to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner on Staten Island. The deaths fueled a national conversation about policing and race. A federal grand jury is currently hearing evidence in Garner’s case.