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Six Cops Indicted in Connection With the Death of Graffiti Artist

February 21, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ Six transit police officers were indicted Thursday, three of them for the second time, in the death of Michael Stewart, a 25-year-old graffiti artist who was arrested for allegedly scrawling on a subway wall.

The 15-count indictment charged officers John Kostick, Anthony Piscola and Henry Boerner with criminally negligent homicide, assault, reckless endangerment and with perjury before the grand jury in an effort to cover up the circumstances surrounding Stewart’s death.

It also charged Sgt. Henry Hassler, Sgt. James Barry and Officer Susan Techky with perjury in the alleged cover-up attempt.

″I hope (the indictment) tells them that when a police officer makes an arrest he is legally responsible for the prisoner in his custody,″ said Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. ″If he beats him or allows others to beat him, he will be held responsible.″

The case has sparked community protests citing Stewart’s death as an example of police brutality against blacks. Others have accused the chief medical examiner of lying about the cause of death, possibly to protect police.

Transit Authority police arrested Stewart, a black, on Sept. 15, 1983, around 2:50 a.m. in a subway station for allegedly scrawling graffiti on a wall. All six officers are white.

About 45 minutes later he arrived bruised, bleeding and comatose at Bellevue Hospital. The indictment charged that as many as 11 police officers had beaten and kicked Stewart shortly after the arrest. He died 13 days later without regaining consciousness.

The three officers facing the most serious charges - Kostick, Piscola and Boerner - were indicted last year on more serious manslaughter charges in the Stewart case.

But those indictments were dismissed after it was learned that one of the grand jurors had conducted his own independent investigation after accusing the district attorney’s office of hindering the panel’s probe.

Dr. Elliot Gross, the city’s chief medical examiner, performed the autopsy on Stewart. He first listed the cause of death as ″cardiac arrest pending further study,″ adding, ″There was no evidence of physical injury resulting or contributing to death.″

More than a month later, Gross reported that death was due to ″injury to the spinal cord in the upper neck.″

Doctors working for Stewart’s family accused Gross of lying about the cause of death - possibly, a family lawyer charged, to protect the police.

Earlier this month, Gross said Stewart’s death might have stemmed from injuries received in a beating, but could also have come from a fall.

Gross has denied allegations he issued faulty or misleading autopsy reports in the Stewart cases or in other cases where people died in police custody, and said his first autopsy report on Stewart was preliminary. Five investigations into his office are under way, and Gross began a leave of absense in January to prepare his case to answer those investigations .

At a news conference, Morgenthau said the grand jury did not return another manslaughter indictment against the three because ″the medical evidence was not quite as strong this time,″ a reference to the pathologist’s letter.

Morgenthau said no officers were named as specifically causing Stewart’s death because none of the 20 witnesses who said they saw police beating Stewart at two sites could identify specific officers.

All the officers are accused of having known about the death and having been in a position to prevent it.

All six officers were released in their own recognizance pending a hearing March 28.

Stewart family lawyer, Louis Clayton Jones, said the indictments were ″the same old stuff - legally defective.″ He said the only substantial charges in the indictment were the perjury charges.

″They lied. No question about that. But the only reason Morgenthau brought the perjury indictments was to cover himself,″ he charged.

Ed Silberfarb, a spokesman for the Transit Authority, said the agency would have no comment on the indictments.

William McKechnie, president of the Transit Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, said forensic evidence indicates Stewart died of a heart attack brought on by exertion by resisting arrest after drinking a large quantity of alcohol.