Grand Jury's Out

Brooklyn D.A. Accused of Failing to Indict Cops Who Kill

Ever since a Brooklyn police officer fatally shot her unarmed son in the back nine years ago, Milta Calderon has demonstrated outside the Brooklyn district attorney's office, even getting arrested once during a sit-in. Calderon, 51, was back at it again on a cold February afternoon for the family of Timothy Stansbury Jr., the unarmed black teen shot dead in January by a startled white police officer on a Brooklyn rooftop.

The teen's family expected an indictment, but Calderon had a special warning for them about the D.A. "Charles Hynes does not indict cops," she told Stansbury's dad.

Indeed, at least 10 times in recent years, Brooklyn police officers have faced no criminal charges for fatally shooting young people who were either unarmed or carrying items that cops misperceived as threatening.

Calderon's own son, 21-year-old Anibal Carrasquillo, died like Stansbury in the darkness of a cold January night. An officer thought the unarmed Carrasquillo had pulled a gun while running away after allegedly peering into parked cars. The officer fired, killing Carrasquillo with a shot to his back. A grand jury cleared the cop.

At a rally outside of Hynes's office in February, Calderon urged Stansbury's father to go straight to federal prosecutors. But Timothy Stansbury Sr., 45, believed that the grand jury called by Hynes would bring housing cop Richard Neri to trial for his fatal blunder. After all, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had quickly said the shooting appeared unjustified. Stansbury, 19, had never had any trouble with the law, and was taking a shortcut with friends across the roof of the Louis Armstrong Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant when they came upon Neri and another officer at a doorway.

As wrong as Stansbury's shooting looked, Calderon was right. There was no indictment.

Instead, the grand jury process has brought anguish to the Stansbury family and a despairing conviction by them and black leaders that cops can kill African Americans and other minorities with impunity. The case has also put pressure on Hynes, sparking charges that his office bungled the grand jury presentation and behaves too deferentially toward police officers.

"Every time a black person gets killed, a black child gets killed, it was an accident?" Stansbury Sr. wondered. "Then they let the cop walk. I don't understand."

Stansbury joins a long line of parents who buried kids and watched an officer go free. Unarmed robbery suspect Jose Luis Lebron, 14, was fatally shot in the back of the head while running from police in Bushwick on January 31, 1990. One grand jury called by Hynes indicted an officer for manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, but a judge later threw out the charges. A second grand jury failed to indict.

A grand jury cleared four police officers in the January 11, 1994, shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Shu'aib Abdul Latif in a dark East New York basement. Officers were responding to a complaint about a man with a gun. Latif, son of a Bedford-Stuyvesant imam, allegedly tried to run, struggled with one officer, and was shot by him and several other cops.

On September 27, 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Heyward Jr. was shot dead in the Gowanus Houses by a cop who thought the black kid's toy gun was real. The case wasn't presented to a grand jury because, as in many of these shootings, police can fire if they think they or others face deadly force.

Two months after the Carrasquillo case, in March 1995, a police officer shot 16-year-old honor student Yong Xin Huang behind his left ear in Sheepshead Bay after the teen was caught playing with a pellet gun. Hynes said the grand jury believed Huang had the pellet gun in his hand and was struggling with an officer whose weapon accidentally went off at close range.

A cop killed eighth-grader Frankie Arzuaga, 15, on January 12, 1996, as he sat in the backseat of a stolen car in Williamsburg that refused to halt for officers. The moving car was dragging a police officer when his partner fired, striking Arzuaga in the head. Hynes did not present the case to a grand jury.

Six months later, two plainclothes officers unleashed 24 bullets at an unarmed black man sitting in a stolen car parked in Flatbush. A grand jury cleared the two cops, who thought 23-year-old Aswan Watson was reaching for a gun when he was picking up a steering wheel lock under the car's seat. The panel did release a report criticizing the officers' tactics and training.

On Christmas Day 1997, a black man was gunned down in Canarsie by a police officer later cleared by a grand jury. The victim, 22-year-old William Whitfield, was mistaken for a fleeing rooftop sniper when shot inside a grocery store.

A grand jury failed to indict the group of officers who let loose pepper spray, then a dozen bullets, at emotionally disturbed Gidone Busch, 31, outside his Borough Park apartment on August 30, 1999. Police said the 159-pound, six-foot-three Busch was holding a hammer in a threatening manner, which his mother denies. She faulted Hynes's office for sticking to evidence favorable to the officers. "They presented a false picture of Gidone being closer to the officers than he was, and no testimony that the pepper spray had the effects of temporary blindness and he couldn't see and didn't have his glasses on," said Doris Busch Boskey, 66.

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