'Homicide By Cop'

The medical examiner ruled Reginald Bannerman's death a suicide, but his family insists that a rogue black cop pushed him in front of a subway train

Like most blacks in New York City, A.B. Bannerman had accepted the argument that his sons were more likely to be brutalized or killed by white police officers— never, until now, challenging the notion that black cops are capable of committing vicious crimes against their own race.

"My son was killed by seven black-ass niggers!" charges Bannerman, adding that the NYPD "figured the family was one of 'em gullible don't-know-nothin'-about-nothin' types who won't push the issue" of murder because all of the officers involved in the alleged killing of his son are black.

"They're not gonna get away with this!" he vows.

Nearly two hours after the seven black undercover narcotics cops allegedly stomped, kicked, and then shot at him as he fled, stumbling, into the darkness last

December, Reginald Bannerman wound up battered and bloody on the Manhattan-bound side of an IRT subway station in Brooklyn.

A source close to the investigation told the Voice that the last two witnesses to see Reginald alive at the Sterling Street station provided NYPD Internal Affairs officials with key information, which fits the family's contention that one of Reginald's alleged assailants caught up with him and pushed him in front of a train. But law enforcement sources maintain that Reginald, 36, dived into the path of the Number 2 train that killed him.

A female subway clerk at the station told investigators that sometime after 1 a.m. on December 19 she sold a token to a man who then paid his fare and went through the turnstile. Shortly afterward, according to the source, another passenger claimed he saw two men scuffling on the platform.

"His reaction was, 'Oh shit!' And he ran upstairs," the source says. Law enforcement sources denied there was a scuffle. "The lone independent witness on the platform said he saw Bannerman pacing up and down, and both he and the motorman said they saw him leap in front of the train," the source says. (The Bannerman family has filed a notice of claim with the city, arguing in part that the motorman was negligent because he failed to stop the train when he spotted Reginald. "Our position is that he did have time," says attorney Ron Kuby, who is representing the family with Michael Mossberg.)

In the wake of the indictment of four detectives in connection with Reginald's death, some of the accused officers' colleagues are trumpeting the theory that the case is probably another example of "suicide by cop."

Within days of scraping Reginald's mangled body off the subway tracks, the medical examiner ruled his death a suicide. Yet everyone who saw Reginald that night remembers him begging for his life— not acting like someone trying to get cops to kill him.

Officers Lloyd Barnaby, 38, and Mark Cooper, 28, face assault charges for allegedly stomping and kicking Reginald with their boots, beating him with a glass bottle, and firing over his head as he ran away. Along with Officer Edward Howard, 30, Barnaby and Cooper are accused of tampering with evidence by recovering shell casings to conceal what they did. And according to the Brooklyn district attorney, who unsealed the indictment on November 23, Cooper, Barnaby, and Officer Orice Connor, 29, were charged with official misconduct for failing to report the use of physical force. Barnaby also allegedly intimidated Karen Ramsey, a 35-year-old witness. (Marvyn Kornberg, the attorney for Connor and Howard, says that his clients were not present when Reginald was allegedly beaten.)

A veteran detective, upset over the indictment, argues that when Reginald "picked a fight" with the off-duty cops inside the BBB Soul and Seafood House restaurant in Crown Heights, he fit the pattern of a distraught person seeking death by police gunfire.

"That's just absurd," responds Kuby, who adds that the family also intends to sue the city for wrongful death. "If he wanted to commit suicide that night all he had to do was stand still because the cops were trying to kill him."

Although "suicide by cop" is a controversial topic gaining serious attention from law enforcement agencies nationwide, that theory has not been adopted by lawyers for the defendants or by Police Commissioner Howard Safir, who said that "the NYPD took immediate disciplinary action against . . . officers believed to be involved in the Bannerman case."

The Bannerman family has no doubts.

"My brother's street name was 'Life,' " says George Bannerman, 41, who tried to save Reginald as the cops allegedly pummeled him. "He had everything to live for. He was the opposite of me."

"He was working two jobs," adds the dead man's father. "He was a happy man. He loved his seven-year-old daughter, NaeNae. If you gon' kill yourself, why bother to pay your fare at the subway?"

Mr. Bannerman's theory is that his son's death is instead a case of "homicide by cops." He speculates that "after beating him like they did they knew they was gon' lose their jobs so they killed him to cover up, so he won't talk. I think they tried to make it look like he jumped in front of the train."

While Mr. Bannerman clings to his belief, Kuby says there is no evidence that Reginald was pushed. "Common sense dictates that he was chased, common sense dictates that he was followed, that the police officers played a direct role in his death," he told the Associated Press. In an interview with the Voice, he added: "The most likely scenario is that he was beaten so badly— one of his eyes was hanging out of its socket— that he became dazed, confused, and fell."

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