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No indictment in White Plains police killing

May 3, 2012 6:33:32 PM PDT
A grand jury has found no crime was committed when an officer shot and killed a 68-year-old ex-Marine who police say was emotionally disturbed and came at them with a hatchet and a knife during a standoff at his apartment. A grand jury has found no crime was committed when an officer shot and killed a 68-year-old ex-Marine who police say was emotionally disturbed and came at them with a hatchet and a knife during a standoff at his apartment.

The decision, announced Thursday, saddened relatives of Kenneth Chamberlain and their lawyer alleged Chamberlain's death was another instance of "discriminatory treatment and brutality in racial matters" by local police. Chamberlain was black. The officer who shot him is white.

Attorney Randolph McLaughlin said the family will file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the White Plains Police Department and others.

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore called the shooting "a tragedy on many levels" but said a grand jury examining Chamberlain's Nov. 19 death found no reasonable cause for an indictment against any of the officers involved in the shooting.

She said the grand jury saw every minute of several audio and video recordings of the confrontation; the shooting itself, however, was not recorded. She said the officer who shot Chamberlain testified before the grand jury without any promise of immunity. The police department has identified him as Officer Anthony Carelli.

"The grand jury heard all the evidence on the use of physical force and deadly physical force by the police in this encounter," the prosecutor said. "The grand jury also heard the evidence of the threatened used of deadly physical force by Mr. Chamberlain."

But Chamberlain's son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., said in a statement: "I have to question what evidence was presented to the grand jury. ... No indictment sends a very strong message to the people of Westchester County regarding police misconduct, brutality and criminality."

He said previously that he was hoping for a murder indictment against the officer.

Some have drawn comparisons between the Chamberlain case and the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin because one officer - not the one who shot him - was overheard uttering a racial epithet during the standoff. An online petition demanding a thorough investigation of the Chamberlain shooting received nearly 200,000 signatures shortly after the Martin shooting.

DiFiore said, "The use of a racial epithet in any context is offensive to the dignity of all of us" and is intolerable when used by a police officer. She said the police department assured her it would review the use of the epithet, as well as its policies on the use of force regarding emotionally disturbed individuals. She said uttering the epithet was not deemed criminal.

White Plains Police Commissioner David Chong said: "We recognize that a life was lost and this decision does not diminish that fact." He said the department is conducting an internal review of the shooting.

Police went to Chamberlain's apartment in response to a report that his medical alert had gone off. Chamberlain had a heart condition. Family members said Chamberlain told officers he was OK, but police insisted on seeing him. What followed was apparently nearly two hours of unsuccessful negotiations, culminating with Chamberlain's death. He was shot twice in the chest.

Police released some of the case evidence Thursday. Sgt. Stephen Fottrell wrote that after Chamberlain told police to go away, Fottrell told him that "if he let the EMS staff check him out we would leave him alone."

A report from an Officer Demchuk says he was trying to take down Chamberlain's apartment door when Chamberlain "reached out through the door jamb with an eight inch butcher knife and in doing so was making continuous slashing motions toward my head and face."

Demchuk said Carelli shot Chamberlain after a beanbag gun and a stun gun had no effect and Chamberlain went after an officer "with the butcher knife raised." After he was shot, Chamberlain fell and "placed the knife to his own throat in an attempt to slash his throat. I was able to knock the knife from Chamberlain with my police baton," Demchuk wrote.

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