NEW YORK – 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, 31, surrendered Wednesday morning. Haste pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges in a courtroom filled with other officers, relatives of 18-year-old victim Ramarley Graham and their supporters.
"Ramarley was only 18," his mother, Constance Malcolm, said outside court. "We have too much of this going on and it has to stop. We need it to stop. We can't keep killing our kids. It has to stop. Something has to come out of this."
As Haste left the courtroom after posting $50,000 bail, dozens of officers applauded him. He was on crutches because of an unrelated accident and walked slowly to a car, while 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. He also heard Haste yell, "Show me your hands!" and "Gun! Gun!" before a shot rang out, police said.
Crammed together in the tiny bathroom, Haste yelled for Graham to hold up his hands, and when the teen reached for his waistband, the officer fired, according to his lawyer, Stuart London.
"I thought he was going to shoot me, so I shot him," Haste said in a court statement read by London.
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.
A search of the apartment didn't turn up any weapons. Police said they found marijuana in the toilet.
Officers are allowed to use deadly force when they have a reasonable belief that they are facing an imminent threat of serious injury or death.
But in the small Bronx bathroom, it was obvious there was no gun, and Haste should not have fired, District Attorney Robert Johnson said.
"He had to know that he did not see a gun," he said.
The family has said Graham was shot as his grandmother and his 6-year-old brother looked on.
Outside court Wednesday, a large group of supporters said they are holding vigils every Thursday in the Bronx for 18 weeks to celebrate the teen's life.
His father, Frank Malcolm, broke down weeping when he said the boy wouldn't be home for Father's Day this weekend.
"Haste is going home to his family. When we leave here we're going to the cemetery," he said. "I keep asking why. Why did he kill our son? Why, why, did he kill our son? 18 years old. 18. He did nothing to deserve this."
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. Haste had been on the force for four years and in the unit just weeks before the shooting. He had never before fired his weapon in the line of duty.
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?"
Supporters of Graham's family said they worry officers were expecting trouble simply because Graham was black. They also say Haste, who is white, used 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.
Bell was black; the officers involved in the shooting were black, white and Hispanic. The shooting reopened questions of race and whether black men were unfairly targeted by police, but critics eventually came to focus more on the use of deadly force.
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.
"We're not looking for revenge. We're looking for justice," the Rev. Al Sharpton, a family supporter, said afterward.