The mother of Ramarley Graham, the unarmed 18-year-old shot to death by police in his Bronx home five years ago, is suing the NYPD over its refusal to turn over records concerning her son’s death and its aftermath, which she has sought under the Freedom of Information Law.
Graham would have turned 24 yesterday, his mother, Constance Malcolm, told reporters at a press conference announcing the lawsuit in front of City Hall yesterday afternoon.
“The de Blasio administration wants to act like it’s OK — a young black man is dead and we should just go on like nothing happened,” Malcolm said. “Well, Mr. Mayor, that isn’t going to happen. I want answers to why my son was killed.”
Malcolm’s avenues for justice have dwindled in the five years since her son’s death. A criminal indictment of the officer who shot Graham to death, Richard Haste, was tossed out by a judge who ruled prosecutors had improperly instructed a grand jury. A second grand jury failed to bring an indictment in the case. Preet Bharara, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, declined to bring charges against Haste. Malcolm settled a civil suit over her son’s death for $3.9 million in 2015. Haste faced a departmental trial in January over alleged failures to follow proper police procedure, but that proceeding did not admit the testimony of any non-police witnesses, and concluded with Haste being allowed to retire from the force before he could be fired. The NYPD has said that two other officers involved in Graham’s killing, Sergeant Scott Morris and Officer John Mcloughlin, will face departmental trials as well but has not said when those proceedings will take place.
The NYPD’s press office did not respond to the Voice’s questions.
For Malcolm, her Freedom of Information request represents her last chance to find out what happened to her son, and how the NYPD reacted in the hours, days, and weeks after his death. Her records request, which her lawyer, Gideon Oliver, characterized yesterday as a “kitchen-sink” request, is 24 pages long and includes detailed record requests that run the gamut from officers’ memo books to NYPD policy documents and the notes police leadership referred to when speaking publicly about the killing.
At the end of January, the NYPD issued a blanket denial of the request. When Malcolm appealed the decision to the NYPD, the department upheld the denial for the overwhelming majority of the records she was seeking, though it did turn over 54 pages of heavily redacted documents, mostly documentation of police efforts to canvas the neighborhood for witnesses. In justifying the denial, the department argued that disclosing the records might interfere with future judicial proceedings, and also cited the controversial Section 50-a of the state’s Civil Rights Law, under which the personnel records of police officers (as well as firefighters, prison guards, and paramedics) are considered confidential.
The lawsuit Malcolm filed yesterday, termed an Article 78 proceeding, puts the NYPD’s decision before a judge, who will rule whether the department’s denial is within the law.
Malcolm was joined yesterday by Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by police in Staten Island in 2014. Carr noted that Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed her son, remains a salaried member of the police force.
City councilmember Andy King chided the NYPD for avoiding turning over the records. “If there’s a FOIL request, you don’t have the option of saying no,” he said. “If they put a FOIL request to councilmembers, we have to answer the question. We don’t have the option of walking away. We don’t have that option. So I don’t understand how NYPD thinks it’s OK to say no.”
Malcolm said her pursuit of the police records is about more than just finding out how her son came to be killed.
“I stand here with my son, Ramarley’s brother,” she said. “If we can’t get justice, this is telling him he’s not worth anything, and I’m not going to allow that, because he’s worth something. He’s a young black man in this city, and I’m going to fight like hell to make sure we get justice — if not for Ramarley, we have to fight for our other young black men and women, and our Hispanic brothers. Because every day you turn on the TV, somebody’s been killed. And no accountability.”