Citing insufficient evidence, prosecutors have closed the civil rights probe into the fatal shooting of a mentally ill African-American man who was shot and killed by a White Plains police officer several years ago.
Joon Kim, the acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that there was insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal charges for officers’ involvement in the death of Kenneth Chamberlain in 2011. Chamberlain was 68 years old at the time of the shooting.
Members of the White Plains Police Department were dispatched to Chamberlain’s apartment in the Winbrook Houses complex on South Lexington Avenue in White Plains at approximately 5 a.m. on Nov. 19, 2011, when an emergency medical alert device went off and he failed to respond to inquires about his medical state.
Kim said that there had previously been several calls to police at Chamberlain’s apartment, and officers were told to be on alert for an emotionally disturbed person. After officers ascertained a master key to enter the apartment, police then encountered a second safety latch that Chamberlain had locked to keep the officers out.
“During that time, the recordings captured the near constant communications between the police officers trying to enter the apartment and Chamberlain, who refused to open the door,” Kim said. The recordings later revealed that Chamberlain responded that he was “okay” and “fine” but he also cursed at the officer and threatened to “kill” anyone who came through the door.
Officers continued to try to pry the door open unsuccessfully, until Chamberlain stuck a kitchen knife out through the door opening. According to Kim, Chamberlain became increasingly agitated throughout the incident and threatened the officers multiple times.
Kim said that the officers kicked open the door between 6:13 a.m. and 6:29 a.m. A video recording from a Taser device that was to be used against Chamberlain showed that he had an object in his right hand.
According to all four officers, the object in Chamberlain’s hand was a knife. After being instructed to put the knife down, Chamberlain responded by saying “shoot me, come on (expletive), shoot me.” He was then tasered twice, though it failed to subdue Chamberlain. He was then shot with non-lethal rounds of bean bag ammunition, but still did not go down.
After failing to incapacitate Chamberlain twice, he began advancing toward an officer with the knife, prompting the officer to shoot twice, with one bullet grazing them and the other fatally wounding him.
“In the context of this case, to establish a violation of federal law, the Department of Justice would be required to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that, at the time of the shooting (the officer) lacked probable cause to believe that Chamberlain posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to others, and that (the officer) willfully deprived Chamberlain of his right to be free from excessive force,” Kim said.
“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.”
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