By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
In the midst of an uproar over fatal confrontations involving police and blacks, a white Brooklyn patrolman claimed that he shot a black drug suspect in the head after the man tried to grab a sergeant's gun during a struggle, but the cop's story was overwhelmingly rejected by a Brooklyn grand jury, the Voice has learned.
The shooting was not made public by the NYPD.
It is also becoming more apparent that black suspects who survive to claim that they were wrongfully arrested, beaten, or shot while in police custody but later are acquitted receive no empathy from Police Commissioner Howard Safir or Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes. Neither seems to care about prosecuting the alleged victimizers.
Hynes's office originally charged Allen McKnight, a popular 35-year-old East New York amateur boxer who survived the April 22 shooting, with first-degree attempted murder; aggravated assault upon a police officer; two counts of grand larceny; two counts of robbery; resisting arrest; two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance; unlawful possession of marijuana; and three counts of criminal possession of a weapon.
McKnight would have faced life in prison if convicted of attempting to kill Sergeant Charles Tyrie.
Without hearing McKnight's version of what happened, a grand jury dismissed complaining officer Matthew Hutchinson's tale, throwing out 12 of the 13 charges. The boxer, who told the Voice that the two cops stopped and frisked him for no reason, and that one of them shot him in the head "execution-style" while his hands were cuffed behind his back, is scheduled to return to Criminal Court in Brooklyn on July 28 for a hearing on the marijuana possession charge.
According to a complaint filed by Detective John Grosse of the 75th Precinct, Officer Hutchinson claimed that about 7:15 a.m. on April 22, while on patrol on Barby Street in the East New York section of Brooklyn, he and Sergeant Tyrie observed McKnight "in possession of a quantity of marijuana." Tyrie and Hutchinson, who "has had professional training as a police officer in the identification of marijuana," approached McKnight in uniform, identifying themselves as officers.
As they attempted to arrest McKnight, they said, the suspect "refused to be handcuffed, flailed his arms and started walking backwards whereby a struggle ensued" in front of 605 Barby Street. As the men tussled on the ground, Hutchinson "felt something [tug at] his holster . . . and observed that his gun was missing." Hutchinson alleged that McKnight had the gun, that his "finger was on the trigger," and that the gun "brushed up against Sergeant . . . Tyrie's stomach."
The cops alleged that McKnight, then firmly in possession of the weapon, threatened to "shoot them" and "pointed the loaded gun at Sergeant Tyrie's chest." The complaint states that Hutchinson, bruised from the struggle, "fear[ed] imminent physical injury" but it does not explain how McKnight was shot.
Hutchinson told Detective Grose that he also "recovered a black bag" with crack cocaine. (It is unclear whether Hutchinson discovered the drug before or after McKnight was shot.) Another officer, Dino Anselmo, reported that he found heroin on McKnight. McKnight was not indicted for possession of either smack or crack.
Seven weeks after the shooting, Allen McKnight, who is known in his East New York neighborhood as "Black the Boxer," or "Black the Barber," struggles with the pain inflicted by a cop's bullet, which, he maintains, was fired at point-blank range into his right temple.
McKnight remembers that shortly after 7 a.m. he left his fiancee's apartment on Stanley Avenue on his way to Queens. Although the three-time Golden Globe contestant was in training for an upcoming bout on August 19, McKnight feared walking through "Ghetnam," street code for the East New York area, which has been plagued by a rash of robberies and gang wars.
"I live in a neighborhood where people dress as police officers and do stick-ups," he says.
As he walked along Schenck Avenue, a blue-and-white squad car pulled up and one of two cops inside shouted, "Hey, you, come here."
"You, what?" McKnight recalls responding to the officer he now identifies as Hutchinson. "What you mean come here?"
He says Hutchinson stormed out of the car, accosted him, and began to dig into his pockets.
"What you doing all in my pockets?" McKnight protested.
"Shut up!" he says Hutchinson demanded.
"What you mean 'Shut up'?" McKnight retorted, pushing Hutchinson's hand away.
Hutchinson, according to McKnight, grabbed his jacket and yelled, "Hey, Sarge, look at this guy; he's trying to take my gun!"
Sergeant Tyrie allegedly got out of the car, wrestled McKnight to the ground, and handcuffed him. "He just handcuffed me and pulled the gun out," he recalls. McKnight adds that in an attempt to talk to Tyrie he turned his head and found himself staring up at the muzzle of the sergeant's hair-trigger 9mm Glock. "As I turned the side of my face . . . and looked right at him, I saw the gun right there," he says." He handcuffed me, put me on the floor, and shot me in my head."
After the bullet ripped into McKnight's temple, Tyrie allegedly sat on the suspect. "I was like, 'I can't breathe! I can't breathe!' And he said, 'This is procedure! Shut up! Shut up! This is procedure!' " The bullet exited through McKnight's mouth.
McKnight began to pray, reminiscent of the way in which the late novelist James Baldwin, questioning "Why God don't protect a man from police brutality," had visions "of being laid out cold and dead."
Says McKnight, "I was saying, 'Please don't take me out this way.' " He blacked out and woke up inside a CAT scan machine at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center. "When I woke up I saw a light, the light that was from the CAT scan," he recalls. "I thought that's how God appears. I didn't see nobody in a white robe with long hair. I just saw the light up ahead."
What McKnight saw caused him to think back about the journey of a sensitive boy discovering manhood in a pressure point called East New York. The youngest of six children, McKnight began stealing cars at age 12. "Just joyriding," recalls the father of three. "I was a short guy driving, barely could see the dashboard."
But many people watched as Allen McKnight turned from a life of petty crime to hardcore criminal. "I have felonies," he volunteers. "I've been involved with weapons and shit." McKnight shies away from discussing how many times he's been to prison, preferring to focus instead on the times he's beaten the system.
"There wasn't no gun ever found on me, but they always said the gun was near me," he says. When cops retrieved a gun in a taxi in which McKnight was a passenger, he denied the weapon belonged to him. "I took it to trial and won," he brags.
McKnight is writing a novel, From Ghetto Life to Prison Life, which is autobiographical in a way. It's about a character named T, "a walking time-bomb," who eventually turns his life around.
"In order to be accepted by his peers, he feels he has to smoke cigarettes, smoke marijuana, commit robberies, and steal," says McKnight. "When he gets arrested, he finds that prison is no different than living in the ghetto because there's rules and things that's abided by in the ghetto it's like a bigger jail, but [one] with a sunroof. So he relives the same struggle inside the jail; now he gotta fight for his sneakers, fight for the phone, then family separation comes between that."
The strong-willed T truly is a reflection of Allen McKnight. Although McKnight's attorney, Casilda Roper-Simpson, intends to sue the NYPD and the city, McKnight wants to make a citizen's arrest of the cops who almost killed him.
But prosecution of Sergeant Tyrie and Officer Hutchinson by local authorities seems to be out of the question. McKnight's alleged attackers have been cleared of any wrongdoing by D.A. Hynes.
"We did not find anything wrong with the shooting," says Kevin G. Davitt, a spokesperson for Hynes, who has been criticized by black activists for showing favoritism to cops.
Roper-Simpson says she will ask Hynes to consider convening a grand jury to investigate the cops. And if the once heralded prosecutor "does not feel like getting his hands dirty," she will petition U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter to launch a civil rights investigation.
"Shootings are always unfortunate, but sometimes they are found to be within guidelines," Davitt says.
Earlier this year, Hynes took the word of two white cops who charged that, after they stopped rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard for driving his 1999 Chevy Tahoe without lights and approached the driver's window, Dirty fired at them and they shot back. No gun was found. Despite Dirty's claims that neither he nor his cousin, rapper Sixty-Second Assassin, were armed, and that cops were out to get him, Hynes presented the case to a grand jury, which ruled that Jones did nothing wrong. Davitt said Hynes had conducted a separate probe of the officers' role in the shooting, but the results were unavailable.
In 1995, Hynes again appeared to send the wrong signal when he bolstered assault charges by two white officers against Tiyates Franklin, an East Flatbush deliveryman falsely accused of a string of holdups. Franklin's story, being recounted here for the first time, never made the NYPD crime blotter, according to his attorney Pamela Hayes.
On a frigid December evening, seven days before Christmas, neighborhood watchdogs on the prowl for a stick-up artist who specialized in ripping off old ladies at the Breuklen Houses in East Flatbush, encountered Franklin.
According to the transcript of a deposition, Franklin said that he was on his way to his sister's apartment when one of the men began "rambling" and bumped into him. "What's up?" the man asked. "What's up with that?"
"What's up with what?" Franklin snarled. He and the man struggled. Franklin broke loose and ran through the housing development to East 108th Street, where his sister lived. Because his sister was not home, Franklin went to another apartment, where he begged the occupant to call the cops.
Franklin felt it was safe to leave the building, but the assailants were waiting outside, and they chased Franklin into a parking lot. One of the men tripped Franklin, beat him in the head, and held him until the police arrived.
According to a $75 million lawsuit Franklin would later file against the city, police officer Brian Leonard "immediately grabbed [Franklin], dragged him on the ground, twisted his arm, kicked [him and] bashed [his] head into a [patrol car.]" On their way to the 69th Precinct station house, Leonard and his partner, Richard Godas, allegedly called Franklin "nigger" and other racial epithets.
"So you like to rob mothers," one of the cops allegedly declared. Both officers then allegedly "assaulted and battered [Franklin] again between [the time of] the car being parked and [him] being taken into the station."
Franklin remained in the hospital for 11 days. He was treated for a broken jaw, fractured ribs, a broken eye socket, and cuts and abrasion. He was indicted on charges including assault, robbery, grand larceny, and criminal possession of stolen property, and imprisoned at Rikers Island for six weeks. After 15 frustrating court appearances and a short trial, a jury acquitted him on October 2, 1996.
Additional reporting: Karen Mahabir