By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Richard Neri, the Brooklyn cop who shot and killed 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury on the roof of a Bed-Stuy apartment building last winter, has been elected to a police union office. In his paid position as a Patrolmen's Benevolent Association delegate in Brooklyn North, Neri will be the new go-to guy for officers in his precinct.
Among other duties for the powerful PBA, Neri will be first on the scene in the event a cop, for example, shoots someone and thinks he might need advice. Just one year ago, Neri was on the receiving end of such PBA help.
On January 24, 2004, Stansbury was trying to take a shortcut across a roof to get more CDs for a friend's birthday party. He got as far as a door that opens out to the roof when, in the stairwell, he was shot once in the chest by Neri. The African American teen, a McDonald's employee who was working on his high school diploma, was unarmed and had never been in trouble with police. Neri later said he pulled the trigger unintentionally.
The racially charged case pitted family members and activists against the NYPD. There were marches, vigils, and speeches. Unexpectedly, the Bloomberg administration positioned itself squarely in the Stansbury family's cornerin direct opposition to the PBA. Mayor Bloomberg visited the boy's grandmother at her home in the Louis Armstrong Projects in Bed-Stuy and spoke at Stansbury's huge funeral.
Bloomberg's police commissioner, Ray Kelly, enraged the PBA by announcing that the shooting appeared unjustified. PBA chief Patrick Lynch fired back by holding a press conference in the lobby of the Brooklyn district attorney's office to denounce what he called Kelly's rush to judgment. Lynch then presided over a special election in which the PBA gave Kelly a vote of no confidence, in effect calling for the commissioner's resignation.
Brooklyn prosecutors sought charges of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter against Neri. But a mostly black and Latino grand jury declined to indict. Insiders weren't surprised, saying juries are typically loath to criminalize police for even the deadliest incidents.
Stansbury's family has filed a civil suit against Neri, who has remained benched, sans gun and badge, pending an internal review of the shooting. He's still on non-enforcement "modified duty" until the NYPD's Firearms Review Board figures out whether to discipline him.
How could a cop still under investigation for a deadly shootingone who can't even carry a badgebe elected to union office? PBA spokesman Al O'Leary tells the Voice: "[Neri's] not fighting crime, he's fighting management. He's a veteranwell-known, well-liked. He's obviously the sort of caring, involved person the job requires."
What's obvious to City Councilman Charles Barron, the unofficial spokesman for Stansbury's parents, is the symbolism of Neri's union post. "The Police Brutality Associationthat's what I call them. That decision was absurd and unconscionable. They have in effect rewarded him for killing an innocent youth."
That Neri was chosen by his colleagues for union office makes Djibril Toure of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement furious. Toure was one of three members of the group's Cop Watch program who were arrested last month while videotaping the arrest of another man ("Busted in Brooklyn," February 22).
"It is totally bizarre," says Toure, "that he would even be employed and not in prison. It is outrageous and a further slap in the face. Unfortunately it's indicative of the lack of respect they have for communities of color. The NYPD is not interested in gaining our respectthey are out of control."
The Stansbury shooting keeps echoing. Stansbury's friends Danny Howard and Terrence Fisher put together a documentary, Bullets in the Hood: A Bed-Stuy Story, and it was shown at this year's Sundance Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Recognition Award.