U.S. Attorney’s Office Closes Investigation Into The Death Of Ramarley Graham
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal charges in connection with the fatal shooting of Ramarley Graham. Mr. Graham was killed during an encounter with police officers from the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) on February 2, 2012. Mr. Graham was 18 years old at the time. The U.S. Attorney met today with Mr. Graham’s family and their representatives to inform them of this decision.
After conducting a thorough and independent investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has determined that there is insufficient evidence to meet the high burden of proof required for a federal criminal civil rights prosecution. To prove a violation of the federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law, and is different from and higher than the intent standard under the relevant state statutes. Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.
The evidence from the investigation reveals the following: At approximately 2:00 p.m. on February 2, 2012, two members of a team of NYPD police officers from the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit (“SNEU”) began conducting surveillance of a bodega on White Plains Road in the Wakefield section of the Bronx. At approximately 2:45 p.m., the NYPD officers observed Ramarley Graham and two other individuals open the door to that bodega, walk in, and then immediately walk out. Video evidence from a nearby business shows Mr. Graham adjusting the front of his pants as he walked northbound on White Plains Road near the bodega. The two police officers conducting surveillance informed investigators that, after observing these actions, they transmitted over the police radio a description of Mr. Graham and his companions to the other members of the SNEU team, and further informed the SNEU team that Mr. Graham possibly had a firearm. The police officers then followed Mr. Graham and his companions as they continued walking north on White Plains Road, and then turned east on East 229th Street. One of the NYPD officers conducting surveillance reported that, when Mr. Graham reached with his hands to pull at his belt, the officer observed the slide of a firearm tucked into the waistband of Mr. Graham’s pants. According to the officers, his partner then transmitted over a non-recorded police channel that Mr. Graham had a firearm. Upon hearing this transmission, the other members of the SNEU team, including NYPD Officer Richard Haste (who had not previously observed Mr. Graham and had not had any prior direct interaction with him), moved to intercept Mr. Graham as he walked eastbound on East 229th Street.
Video evidence shows that Mr. Graham walked to 749 East 229th Street, which officers later learned to be Graham’s residence. As Mr. Graham opened the front door, an unmarked police vehicle quickly pulled up and stopped near the front of the house. As Officer Haste and another officer exited the vehicle, Mr. Graham looked in the direction of the officers and then quickly stepped inside the house and closed the front door. Approximately five seconds later, Officer Haste ran up to the front door and found it locked. He then unsuccessfully attempted to kick the door open. Video evidence shows that Officer Haste proceeded to the back of the house in an attempt to gain entry and entered the house through the back. Another officer followed him inside a few seconds later. Video evidence shows that Officer Haste then opened the front door of the building from the inside of the house and let in two additional officers. Officer Haste and another officer then climbed the stairs up to the second floor apartment.
Inside that apartment were Mr. Graham, Mr. Graham’s grandmother, and Mr. Graham’s six-year-old brother. One of the NYPD officers kicked open the door to Mr. Graham’s apartment. The door to the apartment opened onto a hallway, leading to a living room at the end of the hallway. The evidence establishes that Officer Haste advanced into the hallway of the apartment with his firearm drawn, where he encountered Mr. Graham. According to Officer Haste, he gave commands to Mr. Graham to the effect of, “Police, show me your hands.” Mr. Graham instead moved into an adjacent bathroom. Officer Haste then advanced down the hallway to the doorway of the bathroom.
At this critical moment in time, no other witness present in the apartment, including Mr. Graham’s grandmother, had a view of Mr. Graham. According to Officer Haste, when he looked in the bathroom, he saw Mr. Graham facing him, with his hand in his waistband. Also according to Officer Haste, Mr. Graham then made a motion as if he were pulling something out of his pants. Officer Haste stated that he believed that Mr. Graham was reaching for the weapon that had been described in the earlier radio transmission, and that he fired one round from his weapon in response to a perceived deadly threat. The bullet struck Mr. Graham, causing his death. No gun was found at the scene. A bag of marijuana was found in the toilet bowl next to where Mr. Graham was standing.
In the context of this case, to establish a violation of federal law, the Department of Justice would have to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that, at the time of the shooting, Officer Haste lacked probable cause to believe that Mr. Graham posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to others, and that he willfully deprived Mr. Graham of his right to be free from excessive force. The weight of the evidence indicates that, at the time the shooting took place, Officer Haste believed Mr. Graham to be in possession of a firearm that was tucked into the waistband of his pants, for which Officer Haste believed Mr. Graham was reaching. Although Officer Haste ultimately was proven to be mistaken in his belief, the determination as to the willfulness of his actions must be assessed in light of his knowledge at the time of the shooting.
The investigation revealed no evidence to refute Officer Haste’s claim that he shot Mr. Graham in response to his mistaken belief that Mr. Graham was reaching for a gun. The evidence that, before Officer Haste began to chase Mr. Graham, other officers reported over the police radio that Mr. Graham had a gun is unrefuted. There are no witness accounts or physical evidence that materially contradict Officer Haste’s statement that Mr. Graham appeared to be pulling something from his waistband at the time of the shooting. Nor is there any video of the shooting itself. Accordingly, the Department of Justice could not conclude or prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a federal criminal civil rights violation.
This Office analyzed these issues under the standard applicable to criminal cases, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The Office expresses no view regarding any claims made against any party under the standard applicable to civil cases, which is proof by a preponderance of the evidence.
Accordingly, this Office’s investigation into Mr. Graham’s death has been closed.
Mr. Bharara expressed his deep sympathy to the family of Mr. Graham for their tragic loss.