By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
How starved are boxing writers for heroes? When best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet Roy Jones Jr. announced his upcoming title defense last week, the city's dailies were knocked out by the light-heavyweight champ's latest challenger: 39-year-old NYPD officer Richard Frazier.
He may not have a "a puncher's chance," as the Newsput it, but what a "sweet guy." Call him the "Underdog in Blue," said the Times. As Frazier's 26th Precinct C.O. said in the Post: "He's a gentleman on the street, a gentleman in the [rec] center. But he's not a gentleman in the ring." Even Jones got into the act, proclaiming in all three papers that his latest punching bag is "the kind of guy who I wouldn't mind my kids looking up to."
But to portray Frazier as local hero, the dailies had to repress the record of his most notorious fight: the 1991 Greenwich Village street brawl that resulted in the death of a young Haitian-born artist, Grady Alexis. Though Frazier was eventually acquitted of an assault charge stemming from the incident, the case led to years of protests, while activists and friends of Alexis continue to cite the prosecution as an object lesson in justice gone awry. Amnesty International referred to the killing in its 1996 report on police brutality in New York. (Frazier was unavailable for comment.)
The May 4 incident began after the off-duty cop, driving a Jeep, nearly sideswiped Alexis and two friends walking down 8th Street near Fifth Avenue. One of the three shouted at Frazier, who pulled over and jumped out as did a friend of his, Terry Pressley, riding in a car behind him. According to the police, Frazier and Pressley each threw several punches, and then drove off. In their dust, the 26-year-old Alexis lay mortally wounded on the street, felled, the D.A.'s office would later say, by a single "unlucky punch."
Cops used a vehicle check to nab Frazier, who refused to cooperate with the investigation. As Newsday later reported, "Both Frazier and Pressley were arrested, but officials weren't sure what to charge whom. Pressley told police he punched Alexis, and Frazier hit [a friend of Alexis's]. But three witnesses, including another of Frazier's friends, told a grand jury that Frazier hit Alexis."
Eventually, Pressley was charged with misdemeanor assault in Alexis's death. Frazier was charged with assaulting Alexis's friend. Years later, Pressley was convicted and Frazier, pleading self-defense, was acquitted. But the light charges coupled with a prosecution that a judge called a "nightmare" led to years of protests, not to mention the ubiquitous Village graffito, "Who Killed Grady Alexis?"
"It was a travesty of justice from beginning to end," says lawyer Ron Kuby, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade the U.S. Department of Justice to initiate a federal civil rights case against Frazier and Pressley. "Nobody cared about the life of Grady Alexis except his friends."
Many of those friends remain unhappy about the case. "Frazier got away," says Bernardo Palombo, the director of El Taller Latinoamericano, a cultural center where Alexis lived for several years. Another close friend told the Voice, " 'Sweet' cops don't get out of their cars because someone yells at them. And I think the thing that's most troubling is he fled the scene while someone was dying. But don't use my name. They're police, and I'm afraid of them."
Kuby adds that "this guy Frazier publicly referred to Alexis and his friends as 'squeegees.' He never showed the slightest remorse about the loss of Alexis." And, says Kuby, "I hope he loses the fight. I hope he loses it big-time."