No one will ever feel entirely comfortable that the real story behind the killing of teenager Ramarley Graham is known. There was no video of the shooting. Graham is dead. The officer who shot him while he was purportedly flushing something, presumably marijuana, down the toilet isn’t likely to tell a story of his mistaken reaction.
There was only one other person with knowledge. From the New York Times :
The officer confronted the man, Ramarley Graham, who was in the bathroom, possibly trying to flush marijuana down the toilet. A moment later, a shot rang out, killing the teenager.
While narcotics officers had followed Mr. Graham to the apartment on East 229th Street in Wakefield thinking he was armed, no gun was found, making the grandmother, Patricia Hartley, 58, a crucial witness.
What makes this alarming is that Patricia Hartley wasn’t treated as a witness, but as the enemy of the police.
After Mr. Graham was killed, Ms. Hartley was taken to the 47th Precinct station house on Laconia Avenue and held for seven hours, said Carlton Berkley, a friend of the family’s who said he had retired from the police force as a detective in the 30th Precinct, in Upper Manhattan. Mr. Berkley added that Ms. Hartley was forced to give a statement about what happened.
“She gave it against her will,” Mr. Berkley said. “She didn’t want to speak to the police.”
It’s unclear what this means. Not that she didn’t want to be interrogated, but that she was forced to give a statement. Was she held in a room and subject to the Reed Technique? Was the told she wouldn’t be released unless she answered questions? Was she subject to psychological torture, or physical compulsion?
The official response is that the claim that she was questioned against her will is untrue, and Mrs. Hartley was cooperative.
Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, said Ms. Hartley “made no complaint” to an assistant district attorney who was at the station house.
Had she made such a complaint, it would have been relayed to the police, Mr. Reed said.
“If the nature of Mrs. Hartley’s complaint is true, it would be highly insensitive,” Mr. Reed said. “Nobody should be forced to give a statement, let alone someone who had just lost a grandson in the way that Mrs. Hartley did.”
There’s a bit too much wiggle in this statement for comfort. It doesn’t say that the ADA was in the room as Ms. Hartley was giving her statement, such that she could have expressed her complaint to him. No, just that he was in the station house. That smacks of an artful denial.
More importantly, what could have possible taken seven hours? The incident probably took no more than a few minutes, and even if she was asked to repeat it a few dozen times, she would be on her way in an hour or two. It’s pretty hard to imagine that a grandmother who just lost her grandson chose to spend seven hours in the precinct with the cops who killed him.
And then there is the objective evidence that Ms. Hartley was being held incognito and against her will:
Mr. Berkley said he went to the station house after being contacted by Mr. Graham’s father, Franclot Graham, whom he had known for many years. He added that he waited two hours without being able to speak to her.
A colleague of his called Assemblyman Eric A. Stevenson of the Bronx, who also came to the precinct house and asked a man who he believed was an assistant district attorney if Ms. Hartley was being held against her will. The man disappeared, Mr. Stevenson said, and minutes later Ms. Hartley emerged, crying.
Mr. Stevenson said Ms. Hartley’s lawyer, Jeffrey Emdin, had also been unable to speak to her.
But now for the problem. So what?
The remedy for a coerced statement is suppression, but Ms. Hartley isn’t being charged with anything, and suppression has no applicability to her situation. There is the violation of her civil rights, which, assuming it can get past a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity for engaging in necessary police investigation, might produce a damage award of $27 in five or six years and after thousands of hours of time dedicated to the case. That would mean the attorney for Ms. Hartley would be entitled to a third, less expenses.
The police officer who shot and killed Graham, 30-year-old Richard Haste, is the subject of an investigation.
Officer Haste and a supervisor, Sgt. Scott Morris, 36, who was in a stairwell between the first and second floors when the shot was fired, have been stripped of their guns and badges and placed on nonenforcement duty.
That the supervisor, Sgt. Morris, has been stripped of gun and shield is curious, since he wasn’t there when the shots were fired, and suggests that something went very wrong immediately after the killing.
As for Patricia Hartley, she lost a grandson, she was held for seven hours in the precinct, she was forced to answer questions against her will and there really isn’t anything to do about it. No one questions her right not to be interrogated, but a right without a remedy isn’t much of a right at all.
H/T Radley Balko