Black Blood Is Cheap

The Anti-Police-Brutality Movement Has Been Shot Down in the Highest-Profile Cases

Morgenthau allegedly gave a "pass" to Officer Craig Yokemick in the case some activists now refer to as "Robbing Banks." Last year, a Manhattan grand jury found that Yokemick, the white cop who hurled his police radio like a football at Kenneth Banks while the young man was fleeing on his bicycle, had used justifiable force and should not be charged in Banks's death. The incident occurred on October 29, 1998, after cops alleged that they had seen Banks participate in a drug transaction.

As for Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes, Reno does not have to look far. According to civil rights activist Charles Barron, he is the prosecutor with the worst record of all when it comes to giving cops passes in instances of alleged brutality, In fact, Barron accused Hynes of contributing to the death of Amadou Diallo, arguing that had Hynes prosecuted Officer Kenneth Boss for the 1997 fatal shooting of Patrick Bailey, Diallo would be alive. Last year, Hynes declined to prosecute Boss in the Bailey slaying, saying "there is no credible view of the evidence which would support criminal charges."

According to a report by Hynes's office, the incident began when Bailey, 22, pointed a sawed-off shotgun at another man during a dispute outside a Halloween party. When uniformed officers arrived and ordered Bailey to stop, he fled into his house. Boss chased Bailey into a stairwell, where, the report claims, Bailey turned and pointed the gun at him. The officer fired his pistol three times, striking Bailey in the thigh and buttocks. Bailey died at a hospital after hemorrhaging blood. Police recovered the shotgun, which was unloaded and inoperable. Barron maintains that the shotgun was not Bailey's and that the victim was unarmed when Boss shot him. In July, in a $155 million wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the family, a federal jury found that Boss, another officer, and the city were not liable.

D.A. Robert Johnson had requested that Sharon Johnson have her son present in his office on the afternoon of June 9 when he delivered the bad news. "It's a good thing Dante didn't go over there," she recalls. "I knew a lot of crazy things have been going on, and as far as justice goes, blacks didn't seem to be getting any. I expected him to tell me that based on the information that they had that this cop was going to be indicted on a decent charge." Instead of charging Officer Conway, 33, with a felony, the grand jury slapped the 14-year veteran on the wrist with one misdemeanor count of third-degree assault. Conway was a member of the Street Crime Unit, the plainclothes force that patrolled so-called high-crime areas looking for illegal guns.

This, according to police and prosecutors, is what happened: At about 12:20 a.m. on May 26 last year, Conway, who was in uniform at the time, as well as two other cops, Sergeant Terrence O'Toole and Officer Michael Fraterrigo, were in an unmarked car on routine patrol in the Morris Heights neighborhood. They approached Johnson and a friend for questioning in connection with a string of robberies. When O'Toole and Fraterrigo got out of the car, the teens fled. The two cops caught Johnson's friend on the overpass of the Major Deegan Expressway. Conway chased Johnson in the car. According to a statement released by the D.A.'s office, "Conway pulled alongside Johnson, reached outside his moving vehicle and grabbed the sleeve of the boy's jacket. The gun discharged as the fleeing youth struggled to get away."

In Sharon Johnson's June meeting with the Bronx D.A., she and her attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, pressed the prosecutor for explanations that he seemed hesitant to give. According to Dante's mother, Johnson said that he did not pursue stiffer charges against Conway because of his failed strategy in the Diallo case. "He said that they [filed] many charges [in the Diallo case] but most of them were thrown out and he did not want to look stupid," she says. "I was rather upset. This was a different case." She adds that Johnson tried to convince her that although the grand jury had viewed what happened to her son as an accident, the panel still held Conway responsible.

"No, no, it does not work like that," she remembers telling the prosecutor. "I served 30 days on a grand jury, right across the street. It depends on what you present to us."

She recalls the following exchange:

"I am not going to try to influence the grand jury," Johnson responded.

"That's what you come in there to do," asserted the mother who heard some 200 cases during her grand jury service. "That's what prosecutors do every day. They come in and present cases to us, trying to influence us with whatever information [is necessary] for us to make an informed decision. If you come in and ask for two misdemeanor charges and we give you one—that's what you asked for. We say, 'Okay, you don't believe you have a strong case; that's what you're gonna get.' So don't put that on the jury."

"I don't believe that the cop intentionally did the shooting," Johnson reiterated. Sharon expressed outrage at the prosecutor's stubbornness.

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