Kathleen Horan, Reporter, WNYC News
Kathleen Horan is a staff reporter for New York Public Radio, covering the neighborhood beat. She also reports 'Reset', an ongoing series documenting police-community relations in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Officer Richard Haste faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of first degree manslaughter in the Bronx shooting of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham. But law enforcement experts say officers are rarely convicted in criminal misconduct cases.
In other incidents, like the shootings of Sean Bell or Amadou Diallo, criminal charges against officers didn't stick. Attorney Cynthia Conti-Cook, who often represents clients in excessive use of force cases, said when officers say they feared for their life, judges or juries usually return judgments in their favor.
"If an officer says 'gun' or believes there's a gun involved — as they know they have to in order to justify the use of force — we collectively hesitate to doubt them," she explained.
Conti-Cook said other factors that affected the outcome in cases against the NYPD were when trials got a change of venue out of the local area or when officers waved the right to a jury trial.
The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association has said in many cases, police officers only have a split second to react in dangerous situations and those moments can mean life or death for officers.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and co-author of the book The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation, Eli Silverman believes another reason many cases don’t move beyond an indictment is because it's hard to determine what actually happened.
“It’s usually a situation of he said, she said,” Silverman explained, “and if the person died and there are no witnesses that makes it very difficult and so more often than not in these type of cases the person will not be convicted.”
One high profile exception was the sexual abuse and assault case of Abner Louima in the 1990’s, where officers were convicted and served prison time.