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NY Officers Acquitted in Diallo Case

February 25, 2000 GMT

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ Four white New York City police officers were acquitted of all charges Friday in the killing of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo, whose death in a barrage of 41 bullets touched off weeks of civil disobedience over police treatment of minorities.

The jury _ four black women, one white woman and seven white men _ deliberated for more than 20 hours over three days. The officers all contended that they fired in self-defense after Diallo reached for an object they thought was a gun. It turned out to be a wallet.

The first defendant acquitted, Kenneth Boss, closed his eyes and dropped his head in relief when the verdicts were read.

Boss, 28; Sean Carroll, 37; Edward McMellon, 27; and Richard Murphy, 27, were charged with second-degree murder, but Justice Joseph Teresi said the jury could consider less serious charges, opening the door for a compromise verdict.

Still, the Albany jury, seated after an appeals court ruled that finding an impartial New York City jury was impossible, acquitted all four on counts from murder to reckless endangerment. The jurors, through the judge, said they would not speak to reporters.

Carroll, whose cry of ``Gun!″ started the shooting, sat dazed in his chair after the verdicts were read. The officer’s families, seated in the courtroom, began weeping as it became clear that the defendants would be cleared.

Across the aisle, the Diallo family sat quietly as the repeated sound of ``not guilty″ echoed across the courtroom. As the courtroom emptied, the victim’s mother, Kadiatou Diallo, stood with her cheeks streaked with tears.

Outside the courthouse, demonstrators chanted, ``No justice! No peace!″ A brief scuffle broke out among the Diallo supporters, with police moving in to break up the protest.

In Washington, Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin said the agency had been monitoring the trial and will review whether to bring federal civil rights charges against the officers. Justice prosecutors did just that when Los Angeles police officers were initially acquitted in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.

The Diallo shooting, combined with the 1997 torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in a police station bathroom, led to criticism that police were being excessive in cracking down on crime under the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

After Diallo was killed, protesters gathered almost daily in acts of civil disobedience outside New York police headquarters. A judge eventually dismissed charges against the 1,166 people who were arrested, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, former Mayor David Dinkins, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, and actors Ossie Davis and Susan Sarandon.

The officers, members of a roving plainclothes unit accused of stopping and frisking young black men without cause, shot and killed Diallo, 22, in the elevator-sized vestibule of his Bronx apartment building at 12:40 a.m. on Feb. 4, 1999. He was hit by 19 bullets.

During the monthlong trial, 29 witnesses testified, including the four officers. In sometimes tearful testimony, the defendants sought to convince jurors that Diallo, a street vendor from Guinea described by his family as a devout Muslim, forced them to shoot in self-defense.

The police version, echoed by each of the defendants, held that Diallo was acting strangely as they combed the neighborhood for a suspected rapist. They said he ignored repeated warnings by Carroll and McMellon to ``Stop!″ and ``Show your hands!″

The officers said the 5-foot-6, 150-pound Diallo darted into the dimly lit entrance of his building and drew a black object that looked like a gun. Boss recalled that Diallo was in a ``combat stance.″ The officers said they feared for their lives and opened fire.

Carroll and McMellon, the first to shoot, emptied their 16-shot guns. Boss fired five times and Murphy four while backing up their partners.

Carroll wept on the stand while recalling the shock of realizing the black object ``was just a wallet. ... I said, `Where’s the (expletive) gun?‴

Although one witness said she heard an officer shout ``Gun!″ before the shooting started, several prosecution ``ear witnesses″ _ mainly neighbors of Diallo _ testified they never heard the officers’ voices before gunfire erupted.

A coroner who performed the autopsy on the victim told jurors he believed that most of the bullets struck Diallo as he was either falling or flat on his back.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Eric Warner told jurors Diallo ``never stood a chance″ after the officers made a snap judgment that he was a suspect lurking around a bad neighborhood.

He stopped short of accusing the officers of racism, but alleged they failed to back off despite signs Diallo was a ``decent man″ who lived on a quiet, working-class street.

Carroll’s attorney, John Patten, argued the officers made a split-second decision to defend themselves. Ricocheting bullets made them believe a gunfight had erupted, he said. And McMellon fell at one point, creating the mistaken impression he had been shot, the defense said.

Diallo’s parents attended the trial daily. On some days, busloads of protesters from the Bronx would gather outside, their chants wafting into the courtroom.

Relatives and supporters of the officers rallied as well. Some wore buttons reading ``Free the Bronx 4.″

In Diallo’s neighborhood, reaction to the verdict was angry.

``I think it’s terrible,″ said Freddie Montalvo. ``I think it’s terrible. It sends the wrong message to young cops: They can get away with it.″