‘I thought I was about to be shot,’ white NYC officer says
NEW YORK (AP) — A white police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager to death in the bathroom of his apartment said Friday that the last thing he wanted to do was pull the trigger.
“I thought I was about to be shot,” Officer Richard Haste said during testimony at his departmental disciplinary trial in the 2012 death of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham. “I expected to be dead.”
Graham’s family and friends, seated in the audience, cried out, “Liar!” during Haste’s testimony, prompting the administrative judge to bang the gavel and ask for order. Some cried and others left during questioning, shaking their heads.
Haste initially faced a criminal manslaughter charge in the death, which became another flashpoint for outrage over police use of deadly force against minorities.
But the criminal case was dismissed because of a procedural error, and a new grand jury declined to indict. Federal prosecutors also declined to bring charges, saying there was no evidence to rebut Haste’s claim that he shot the teen because he mistakenly believed he was reaching for a gun.
The New York Police Department began public hearings before an administrative judge Monday to help determine whether Haste should be fired or face some lesser punishment, for the killing.
On the stand, Haste recounted how he got out of his police van during a drug probe in Graham’s neighborhood and followed the teenager, suspected on police radio chatter of having a gun, into his apartment. He went around and got in through a neighbor’s home, then unlocked the front door for other members of his team. They walked up the stairs tensely, watching for suspects and looking for cover. He said he saw Graham sidestep into a bathroom, and he leaned inside to face him.
“He’s in front of me,” he said. “And I want to take him into custody. I want to put an end to this,” he said. Haste yelled, “Show me your hands!” but Graham instead reached deeper into his pants and yelled obscenities, Haste testified.
After he pulled the trigger, he noticed Graham’s grandmother and 6-year-old brother screaming in the hallway, and a tan boot pointed up out of the bathroom door.
No gun was found, but a bag of marijuana was floating in the toilet.
Haste said he’d been in similar situations more than 10 times before but had never pulled the trigger.
Outside the trial, Graham’s mother called the officer a liar for his testimony that he didn’t see anyone in the apartment.
“He doesn’t have any remorse, and he doesn’t look like he had any remorse,” Constance Malcolm said. “Every day he comes to court he have that stupid grin on his damn face.”
NYPD lawyer Beth Douglas told the judge that Haste should be fired for not following department policy. Once Graham ran into his home and locked the door, she said, the officer should have called for backup and waited for instructions from a sergeant. On cross-examination, she noted Haste never checked in with his sergeant and acted on his own.
Haste said he reacted using the best of his training and was floored when he discovered there was no gun.
“If he didn’t have a gun, why would he aggress in that manner?” He added, “It didn’t make sense to me.”
An administrative judge will recommend a punishment that would still need approval from the police commissioner.
“I can’t see how this man cannot be fired or why he shouldn’t be fired,” Malcolm said. “Richard Haste should not be on the force, and we have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
This story has been corrected to show Graham’s mother’s last name is Malcolm, not Malcom.