The death of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham in Brooklyn last Friday was the third time that week that a member of the New York Police Department shot a citizen. It now seems likely that that the Graham shooting will be the incident with the most controversial teeth. After all, the teenager was killed in his Grandmother's bathroom, and the Grandmother and Graham's six-year-old brother were in the apartment at the time.
And not only is the initial story — that Graham struggled with police before he was shot — already falling apart (even Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has admitted this) but some newly-released surveillance footage of Graham and the police on his trail makes the NYPD look very bad indeed, and like probable-violators of the Fourth Amendment.
(Though maybe not, thanks to Kentucky vs. King which upheld the right of police to kick down a door if they smelled marijuana; Justice Samuel Alito took the stance that if someone bars police entry on Constitutional grounds that's legal, but if they instead attempt to destroy evidence (making sounds to suggest they are doing that), a warrant-less home invasion is justified. Does the legality of entry also depend on how whether the drugs were visible during the alleged buy? Or the threat of Graham's non-existent gun which cops twice reported over the radio? I don't know, but I would be interested to see what brainier, more legal-minded people have to say, including the folks over at Volokh Conspiracy.)
The footage below shows Graham returning home at a walk. Two police officers are several seconds behind him, but they're running. Graham goes inside and then the cops spend several minutes trying to kick down the front door. They finally move to the back where they successfully broke into the apartment. Below is a New York 1 news report on the footage, and a WPIX report with clearer picture can be found here.
Then things gets hazier. Residents of the apartment say that police didn't identify themselves. You can see "police" on the back of their jackets in the video, but you could also understand some disorientation or confusion over the identity of two gun-toting people who just broke down your back door. Graham definitely was in the bathroom when he was killed, supposedly while trying to flush his recently-purchased marijuana. As mentioned, even Commissioner Kelly is backing away from the allegations that there was a scuffle. The officer who shot Graham, as well as his Sergeant, are both now on restricted leave (desk duty, with their guns and badges revoked). Again, no gun was found on Graham, or in the apartment.
The New York Post reports that NYPD Commissioner Kelly's verdict is promisingly not-100 percent in support of police. He said at a press conference that "the evidence will be presented to a grand jury" and "At this juncture, we see an unarmed person being shot. That always concerns us."
Further stoking the controversy are allegations about how poorly Graham's Grandmother was treated by police. She says she was held for seven hours and denied access to her heart medication.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.