Police acquitted in Diallo killing

4 N.Y.

Jury accepts testimony that officers thought vendor had a gun

Parents plan civil lawsuit

Anti-police protests held at site of shooting, courthouse


ALBANY, N.Y. -- Four New York City police officers were acquitted yesterday of all charges in the death of Amadou Diallo, the immigrant from Guinea who was shot 19 times as he stood, unarmed, in the vestibule of his apartment building in the Bronx.

The verdict ended a tense and racially charged case that led to anti-police demonstrations, arrests and a reorganization of the department's Street Crime Unit, to which the officers belonged.

But litigation over the shooting might not be over.

After the verdict was announced, Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, announced that her office and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will conduct a review to determine whether any civil rights laws were violated.

Diallo's parents plan to file a civil lawsuit against the city.

The shooting occurred about 12: 40 a.m. Feb. 4, 1999, when the four white officers in street clothes approached Diallo on the stoop of his building and fired 41 shots at him as he retreated inside.

They said they thought he had a gun in his hand. It was a wallet.

The jurors -- four blacks and eight whites -- deliberated for three days before reaching their verdict.

The officers -- Sean Carroll, 37; Edward McMellon, 27; Kenneth Boss, 28; and Richard Murphy, 27 -- hung their heads, wiped their eyes and hugged each other and their lawyers as the verdicts were read. As they left the courthouse, they walked silently past a crowd of jeering protesters.

Diallo's parents, friends and supporters sat quietly through the repeating of not-guilty verdicts and filed quickly out of the courtroom. His mother's face was streaked with tears.

The jurors told Justice Joseph C. Teresi, who presided over the trial, that they did not want to speak to reporters.

During the four-week trial, the officers acknowledged their mistake. The defense lawyers intended the officers' testimony to be the centerpiece of their defense that the shooting was justified because they believed Diallo had a gun.

They also hoped their testimony would "humanize" the officers. Carroll sobbed as he described how he held Diallo's hand as he lay dying.

The chief prosecutor, Eric Warner of the Bronx district attorney's office, had argued that the officers, particularly Carroll, had caused the fatal confrontation by prejudging Diallo as a possible rapist or robber, and never considering that Diallo might have a right to be where he was.

Robert Johnson, the Bronx district attorney, said outside the courthouse, "I'm satisfied that the jurors were fair here." But he added, "This case raises a lot of issues about police tactics."

People in the Bronx have been "trying to get the attention of the police department for some time," he said, "and this case will do it."

Others were sharply critical. Former New York Mayor David N. Dinkins said he was "outraged" by the verdict and that the officers' accounts of the shooting were not believable.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been leading protests against the police department, appealed for calm and said he would push the Justice Department to bring a federal civil rights case.

"This is not the end; this is just the beginning," he said.

Outside the courthouse, Kadiatou Diallo, Amadou's mother, said, "I ask for your calm. As we go on for the quest of justice, life, equality, I thank you all."

Saikou Diallo, Amadou's father, said he was disappointed with the verdict, which he called "the second killing" of his son.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani expressed sympathy for the Diallo family and praised the jury for its work. "It fills me with profound respect for being an American and for living in a country that has a trial by jury," he said.

More than 300 people gathered at the building on Wheeler Avenue in the Bronx where Diallo was killed to protest the verdict.

Diallo, a 22-year-old immigrant from Guinea in West Africa, worked as a street peddler, selling videotapes, socks, gloves and other wares from his regular spot on the sidewalk. He worked 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week.

He had returned home about midnight on the night of the shooting and discussed a utility bill with one of his roommates. The roommate went to bed, and Diallo, for reasons that are not known, went downstairs to the vestibule of the building.

Carroll testified that Diallo was acting suspiciously, peering out from the stoop, then "slinking" back toward the building.

Diallo, Carroll said, fit the general description of a serial rapist who had last struck about a year earlier. But he acknowledged on cross-examination that he could not see Diallo well enough even to determine his race.

Acknowledging that they had made a mistake, the officers and their lawyers said Diallo was largely to blame for his own death. He did not respond to their commands to stop, they said, and did not keep his hands in their sight.

Instead, he ran into the vestibule and began digging in his pocket, then turned toward the officers with something in his right hand. They said they thought it was a gun and began shooting.

When Diallo slumped to the floor, hit by 19 of 41 bullets, his wallet fell out of his right hand. There had been no gun.

Warner suggested that Diallo might simply have been reaching for his wallet to hand it over to what he thought was a gang of robbers. Or, he said, he might have been trying to show the officers his identification.

The officers' snap judgment about Diallo when they first saw him from their car, and their failure to think through the situation, showed a recklessness and complete lack of concern for Diallo's life that made them culpable for his death, Warner said.

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