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2012-07-02

Kenneth Chamberlain’s Family Files Suit After White Plains Police Evade Charges for Slaying, Slurs

Guests

Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., son of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.

Mayo Bartlett, former chief of the Bias Crimes Unit of the Westchester County District Attorney’s office and the former chair of the Westchester County Human Rights Commission.

Randolph McLaughlin, longtime civil rights attorney who teaches at Pace Law School.

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A $21 million civil rights lawsuit is being filed today against the city of White Plains, New York, and its police department over the death of 68-year-old African-American veteran, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. He was shot dead by police officers inside his own home after he accidentally set off his medical alert pendant. Police have since acknowledged using racial slurs against Chamberlain — an act they have described as a "tactic" to distract him as they sought entry into his home. Today’s lawsuit comes less than two months after a Westchester County grand jury decided not to indict Police Officer Anthony Carelli for the shooting. We speak with Chamberlain’s son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., and two of the family’s attorneys, Mayo Bartlett and Randolph McLaughlin. "This is just one step of many that we’re doing to try to hold the city of White Plains accountable for the death of my father," Chamberlain Jr. says. "It’s unacceptable for the district attorney’s office or for anyone else to suggest that calling someone a racial slur is a tactic," Bartlett says. "If anyone else had used that language, they would be charged with a hate crime — at a bare minimum, for aggravated harassment. ... That further makes you wonder what actually was presented to the grand jury." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We return now to the police killing of Kenneth Chamberlain. He’s the 68-year-old African-American Marine veteran who was shot dead inside his own home in a White Plains—by a White Plains, New York, police officer this past November. The police were called to Chamberlain’s apartment after he accidentally set off his LifeAid medical alert pendant.

Chamberlain’s family is headed to federal court in Manhattan today to file the $21 million civil rights lawsuit against the city of White Plains, the White Plains Housing Authority and eight police officers involved in the incident. The suit comes less than two months after a Westchester County grand jury decided not to indict Police Officer Anthony Carelli for the shooting.

The tragic incident occurred early on the morning of November 19th. When police arrived at Chamberlain’s apartment, he told officers he was OK but refused to let them inside his apartment. The police responded by breaking down his door and then shooting him with a taser, then with bean bags fired from a shotgun, and finally Officer Carelli shot him dead. Police claim Chamberlain tried to attack them with a knife.

In May, the police released video showing the moment the police broke down his door and shot him with a taser. TV viewers will see a few quick glimpses of Kenneth Chamberlain. The 68-year-old man was wearing boxer shorts and no shirt. It was very early in the morning. He had been woken up by the police. This video was recorded by a camera on the police taser. Listen closely. You can hear the sound of the taser.

POLICE OFFICER: You got it?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: Shoot! Shoot me! No! Shoot me! Shoot me!

POLICE OFFICER: Need another cartridge?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: Shoot me!

AMY GOODMAN: That was Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. being shot by a taser. The police then shot the patient dead.

We’re joined now by Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., the son of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., and by two of the family’s attorneys. Mayo Bartlett is former chief of the Bias Crimes Unit of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and the former chair of the Westchester County Human Rights Commission. And Randolph McLaughlin is a longtime civil rights attorney. He teaches at Pace Law School here in New York.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Ken Chamberlain Jr., the significance of this lawsuit today, why you’re in New York City?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN JR.: Well, I tell people that, from the very beginning, it’s my belief and my opinion that the Westchester County DA did not present the evidence fully and fairly. So, to come back with no indictment whatsoever, you have to wonder what was actually on the table for the grand jury to look at. And this is just one step of many that we’re doing to try to hold the city of White Plains accountable for the death of my father.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to be clear on what happened in November, the LifeAid pendant that your father wore goes off. Maybe he rolled over on it. The LifeAid company speaks to him in the apartment, because there’s a box in your father’s apartment that links to this medical alert company?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN JR.: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: And they are now recording everything that’s happening in the room. They try to speak to him, but he’s asleep—he’s not answering.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN JR.: Yes. If you don’t get a response, they automatically contact emergency services. And the police department would be one of the people that they would contact and notify them that they are responding to a medical emergency. And this is what a lot of people don’t understand when they don’t see the problem with this, is that you were not responding to a crime, you were responding to a possible medical emergency. And once they arrive, and my father tells you he’s OK, that should have been the end of it. They should have left, and my father would still be alive today. But because he refused to open his door completely, they then decide that, OK, we’re going to bust your door down. And we already know what took place after that.

AMY GOODMAN: The tasering and then the shooting of your father dead. After the White Plains police arrived at Ken Chamberlain’s apartment, he told an operator from LifeAid that he was not sick and did not need assistance. Listen carefully.

LIFEAID OPERATOR: This is your help center for LifeAid, Mr. Chamberlain. Do you need help?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: Yes, this is an emergency! I have the White Plains Police Department banging on my door, and I did not call them, and I am not sick!

LIFEAID OPERATOR: Everything’s all right, sir?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: No, it’s not all right! I need help! The White Plains Police Department are banging on my door!

LIFEAID OPERATOR: Mr. Chamberlain, go to your door and answer it.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: [inaudible] Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

LIFEAID OPERATOR: Open your door for the police, Mr. Chamberlain.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I didn’t call the police. I did not call the police!

LIFEAID OPERATOR: That’s OK. Go to your door and let them know you’re all right.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I stay right there. They hear me. They say they want to talk to me.

LIFEAID OPERATOR: OK, go and talk to them, sir. I’ll stay on the line with you.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I have no reason to talk to them.

LIFEAID OPERATOR: Mr. Chamberlain? Mr. Chamberlain?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: Yes.

LIFEAID OPERATOR: You pressed your medical button right now. You don’t need anything, let the police know you’re OK.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I’m OK! The police department is knocking on my door, and I—

LIFEAID OPERATOR: Yes, I understand. Go to the door and tell them you’re all right.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I will not open my door.

LIFEAID OPERATOR: Sir, go to the door and tell them you’re OK.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I will not open my door.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Kenneth Chamberlain speaking in his apartment to the LifeAid operator. Randolph McLaughlin, talk about the significance of this moment. The pounding we hear is the police pounding on this patient’s door. The company had told the police that they had canceled their call?

RANDOLPH McLAUGHLIN: Yes, the company told the police they had canceled the call. Mr. Chamberlain said repeatedly, "I don’t need your assistnance." At one point, the door is ajar, sufficient that they could see into the apartment and see Mr. Chamberlain was not in any distress whatsoever. Yet and still, they persisted on banging on this man’s door for up to an hour and then using a device to literally take the door off the hinges and break his door down. At no time did Mr. Chamberlain present himself as a threat to anyone. He never left his apartment. They came into his apartment and shot him dead.

AMY GOODMAN: The tapes that were released, it’s unusual to see this level of a sort of document dump. The White Plains district attorney put out all of these tapes, both of the video of the taser itself—it was on the gun—and the audiotape from the LifeAid company. At the time, they didn’t know everything they were saying was being recorded, because that’s what LifeAid does, including a police officer knocking on the window outside and using the N-word. Can you talk about that?

RANDOLPH McLAUGHLIN: Yeah, they claim that that word was used to distract Mr. Chamberlain. So, let me get this right now. You’re a white officer in an African-American community, and you’re using the N-word to distract a black person? Well, that doesn’t make any sense. It just doesn’t make any sense. But that officer—none of the officers knew they were being recorded.

And when this document dump happened, it happened the same day that the grand jury didn’t indict. The DA refused to indict, basically, because when the grand jury doesn’t indict, it’s because the DA doesn’t want an indictment. That’s my view of the matter. They dumped this on the media and on us at the same time, and over 205 pages of police reports. I guess they were hoping that it would demonstrate to the public and the media that there was nothing wrong here. Well, it was just the opposite, because what we saw on those tapes was a man in boxer shorts not leaving his apartment, not really threatening anyone.

But equally important, in the reports that were issued, one officer writes a report that when they shot him with bean bags—they also used bean bags before they used a gun—that Mr. Chamberlain went down. "Went down." His words, not ours. So, what was your plan after he went down? Why didn’t you go into the apartment now and take him down to make sure he couldn’t get back up and do anything to hurt anyone? They didn’t do that. The bean bags were shot in close succession, and then immediately the gun was fired.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to more tape. While the police were threatening to break down Kenneth Chamberlain’s door, before they actually did, Chamberlain’s sister called the police in an attempt to defuse the situation.

OFFICER CIANCI: White Plains police emergency.

CAROL MATTHEWS: Yes, good morning. My name is Carol Matthews. I’m—I understand that the police are down with my brother, Kenny Chamberlain.

OFFICER CIANCI: Yes, ma’am.

CAROL MATTHEWS: And I’m—you know, I’m trying to get through to him. You know, he is on medication.

OFFICER CIANCI: He is on medication, right, yeah.

CAROL MATTHEWS: Yeah, he has the paper that he’s supposed to carry around with him.

OFFICER CIANCI: OK, no problem.

CAROL MATTHEWS: And, you know, he’s like really—he seems like he’s done snapped, you know what I mean?

OFFICER CIANCI: Sure.

CAROL MATTHEWS: I just don’t know what to do at this time.

OFFICER CIANCI: OK, well, it’s no problem.

CAROL MATTHEWS: The number that I have—

OFFICER CIANCI: Just, you know what? We’re going to handle it on our end.

CAROL MATTHEWS: Yeah, but I mean, I don’t—you know, they say he has a—someone said he has a knife or something?

OFFICER CIANCI: Who said that?

CAROL MATTHEWS: The people from the station, you know, from the alert station, life alert.

OFFICER CIANCI: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not sure. Whatever it is, though, we’re going to handle it. And then he can—

CAROL MATTHEWS: Yeah, but that’s—

OFFICER CIANCI: —certainly get in touch with you as soon as he can.

CAROL MATTHEWS: Because I don’t want them to shoot him, you know.

OFFICER CIANCI: No, it’s not going to come to that.

CAROL MATTHEWS: Well, they said that—my daughter is there also. She said that they—that they have their guns out. They’re trying to talk to him, you know, but that’s—

OFFICER CIANCI: Right, right. Well, you know what, ma’am? Listen, just stay in contact with your daughter. She knows more than I do. I’m inside right now. I don’t really have any of the information, so you just talk with her, and she’ll relay you any information that she gets. She’ll probably get it to you faster than I could.

CAROL MATTHEWS: OK.

OFFICER CIANCI: OK? Have a good evening. All right, bye-bye.

AMY GOODMAN: So there is Ken Chamberlain Sr.'s sister, Carol Matthews. You know, she was on the alert—life alert company's list of someone to call in case of an emergency. She’s talking to them from another state, from North Carolina, saying, "You’re not going to shoot him, are you?" Mayo Bartlett, you’re one of the attorneys for the Chamberlain family. And yet that’s exactly what they did.

MAYO BARTLETT: Absolutely, and they were given just ample opportunity to avoid shooting Mr. Chamberlain. Mr. Chamberlain was there. They knew Mr. Chamberlain. They knew he was a 68-year-old man. They knew he was elderly. They knew that he had a medical condition. They had gone there at 5:00 in the morning to give him possible medical attention. They did not respond to a 911 call because any crime was taking place. So when they got there, you could hear the manner in which they were banging on that door. That’s not knocking on someone’s door as if you want to gain entry. That’s a way to really scare someone or to agitate that person. And when they continued to do that and then eventually broke his door down and called him racial slurs—I mean, and I believe that happened more than one time—it’s absolutely unacceptable, and it makes you wonder what duty they felt they owed him.

And it is my feeling that it shouldn’t matter. I mean, Mr. Chamberlain happened to have had a distinguished career in the military, happened to have retired as a corrections officer, but none of that really should be important. What should matter is that no one in society should be treated that way. No one should be greeted by slurs based on their ethnicity or their race. And I think it’s unacceptable for the district attorney’s office or for anyone else to suggest that calling someone a racial slur is a tactic. If anyone else had used that language, they would be charged with a hate crime—at a bare minimum, for aggravated harassment. And that would be under the New York state laws.

And that further makes you wonder what actually was presented to the grand jury. And the suggestion also, as has been suggested by the police commissioner, Chong, recently, that they’re still investigating this matter on the law enforcement side. Well, if they’re still investigating a case seven months after the fact, what was presented to the grand jury? Did they make a presentation before the full and final investigation was completed? These are all questions that we have.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we’re coming back to this discussion, and also learn about some of the records of the police officers who were involved with this, who are in fact facing other cases of charges of police brutality themselves. We’re speaking with Mayo Bartlett and Randolph McLaughlin—they are two of the attorneys for the family—and Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., the son of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. and attorneys Mayo Bartlett and Randolph McLaughlin. We’re talking about the case of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. He is a former marine, a former corrections guard. He is a—he was a heart patient. He was 68 years old. In November, November 19th, 2011, his life alert pending went off. The LifeAid company, the medical alert company, couldn’t reach him, so they called the police and said, "This is not a police incident. This is a medical emergency. We ask you to come to the scene." When Ken Chamberlain responded, they called back the police and told them they were canceling the call, but the police said no. They broke down the door. They tasered Mr. Chamberlain. And then shot him dead.

I want to go to another of the recordings that we have been playing. This is—this was released by the White Plains Police Department from the morning Kenneth Chamberlain was shot dead. Listen carefully. You can hear Mr. Chamberlain say, "They’re getting ready to kill me or beat me up."

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: They have stun guns and shotguns! [inaudible]

POLICE OFFICER: Mr. Chamberlain! Mr. Chamberlain!

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: They’ve come to kill me with that, because I have a bad heart.

POLICE OFFICER: It doesn’t have to happen that way. [inaudible] just have to open the door.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: Get out! I didn’t call you! I did not call you. Why are you here? Why are you here?

POLICE OFFICER: Life alert called us.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: Why are you here?

POLICE OFFICER: Life alert called us.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: They have their nine-millimeter Glocks at the ready. They’re getting ready to kill me or beat me up.

POLICE OFFICER: Open the door.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I’m OK.

POLICE OFFICER: Let them check you out. And then we will leave.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m fine.

POLICE OFFICER: Yeah, but I’m not a doctor.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I am fine!

POLICE OFFICER: No, nothing here.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: Leave. I’m fine. Now leave. I’m fine.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. saying, "Now leave. I’m fine," continuing to assert that he is fine. Ken Chamberlain Jr., as you listen to this, the other statements that your father made, for example, when he said, "Semper fi"?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN JR.: Well, my dad, as everyone knows, was a marine. And, you know, they always say, once a marine, always a marine. And it’s ironic that that’s also the motto, Semper fi, of the city of White Plains, which you’ll see on the city of White Plains’ flag. But they treated my father with no respect whatsoever.

And as Randy said, when they released all of the evidence, the audio, the video, I guess it wasn’t in an attempt to try to sway the public. But from what I gather and what I found and observed on blogs and everything else, one of the main things that people say after they review all of it is, "I can’t believe there was no indictment." That’s one of the first things they say.

And then the second thing they say is, "He said he was OK. So why didn’t they just leave him alone?" which is the main answer. Why didn’t you leave him alone? He said he was OK. My father would still be alive today, had you just walked away after he said he was fine.

And you also hear my father say in part of the audio that "You’re a racist," after they used the N-word. And you guys are really the only ones that really play this stuff, where the other media outlets don’t do it. They just allege that my father is being aggressive, but they don’t play the 30 minutes before, where my father is being—fearing for his life.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mayo Bartlett, that issue of the N-word that was used. We have the clip. Can you set it up what it is that we’re about to listen to, of the police officers?

MAYO BARTLETT: Absolutely. It’s a point in time where Mr. Chamberlain again is asking them to please leave him alone, and something to the effect that he’s just an old man with a heart condition. And the officers respond by telling him, essentially, "We don’t give an F," you know, and called him the N-word. You don’t expect law enforcement to do that to anybody. And by doing that and by having, again, the district attorney’s office suggest that that’s a tactic is essentially telling us that we’re supposed to accept that from law enforcement, but really they aggravated the situation at that point.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s play a clip. Listen carefully.

OFFICER STEPHEN HART: Mr. Chamberlain!

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: Don’t do that, sir. Don’t do that. Don’t do that, officer. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Do not do that! I’m telling you I’m OK!

OFFICER STEPHEN HART: Open up the damn door, nigger!

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I’m telling you I’m OK!

OFFICER STEPHEN HART: [inaudible]

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.: I’m telling you I’m OK.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Officer Stephen Hart. He was outside, Randall McLaughlin?

RANDOLPH McLAUGHLIN: Well, it’s unclear where he was at that moment. I mean, that’s the second time I’ve heard that N-word. There’s another part in the clip where he’s at the window, and he says, "Stop. We have to talk, N." That’s a different portion of the tape. So, apparently, as Mayo has said, as Kenneth said, there were two instances now that I’ve heard where that N-word is being used as a, quote, "tactic." No, I call it what it is: it’s a racist tactic.

AMY GOODMAN: You met with the U.S. attorney’s office, with the Justice Department?

RANDOLPH McLAUGHLIN: We did. The same day that the grand jury refused to issue an indictment, we met and decided that we were going to reach out to the U.S. attorney’s office. And that next morning we wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney’s office and Eric Holder, the attorney general, demanding a federal prosecution and investigation into two things: one, into the death of Mr. Chamberlain and to see whether that violated federal civil rights criminal statutes, and also, given other instances that we’re aware of in terms of racist policing in White Plains, whether the entire department should be investigated for policies and practices that are leading to these kinds of outrages.

So, about two weeks ago, we met with representatives from the U.S. attorney’s office. We’re not at liberty to disclose what was said in the meeting. What I can say is it was a very productive meeting. We believe they will conduct a full and fair investigation. And we are hopeful that at the end of the day, when they look at the evidence that you have, that they have as well, that there will be federal indictments.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you compare this to the Trayvon Martin case in any way?

RANDOLPH McLAUGHLIN: I think, in some ways, this case is worse than Trayvon Martin’s case. And here’s why. Trayvon Martin was killed in a horrible situation by a vigilante. He wasn’t hired or an employee of the city or law enforcement. He was just a wacko nut out there carrying a gun and did a terrible thing. This was—it was almost like an invading army was storming this man’s castle, because your home is supposed to be your castle. So it wasn’t like they had to make a spur-of-the-moment decision, you know, someone’s coming at them with a gun or a knife, and it’s us or them. They had an hour to figure out how to handle this. They had up to 10 to 12 officers around. There was a lieutenant in the station house. There were sergeants there. I mean, it wasn’t like they were a bunch of rogue officers just making a quick decision. They planned, they executed their plan, and they executed this man. That’s what this was. We’re suing eight officers, because these eight officers, we charge, engaged in a conspiracy. That’s what this was, a conspiracy to destroy this man’s life and to insult and terrorize him for that hour. And this isn’t the first time that three of these officers have been engaged in this kind of—these kinds of behaviors.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Mayo Bartlett, who are these three officers? Can you name the names of the officers and the cases that they are involved with, in addition to Mr. Chamberlain’s killing?

MAYO BARTLETT: Well, I can tell you that Officer Hart and Officer Carelli are involved in other matters. There’s a matter involving the Hatter brothers, where they are two gentlemen of Jordanian descent who were arrested and alleged that they were beaten and called "ragheads," based upon who they happen to be.

But if I could very briefly just go back to the Trayvon Martin comparison again, Trayvon Martin—there’s a suggestion that the "Stand Your Ground" law may apply there, and Mr. Zimmerman is not law enforcement. Here, we’re talking about police officers who swear to protect. They’re supposed to be the neighborhood watch for the people who live in the Winbrook Houses. And instead, they went in there and used language which would terrorize anyone who lives in that apartment complex. Every neighbor of Mr. Chamberlain’s had to realize that it could have been them, if they had a medical emergency. And in this situation, they went in there, and Mr. Chamberlain was in the one place that you’re supposed to always be able to stand your ground, whether you have a Stand Your Ground law or not. You’re supposed to be able to stay in your home without retreating. When you’re in your home, there’s no place else to retreat. And as Randy said earlier, you know, Mr. Chamberlain never left his house that evening, you know, never left his home. He was there 5:00 in the morning, never left his house, was in his home while the police broke it down and came in to attack him.

But going back to these other cases—

AMY GOODMAN: So you have Carelli, who is about to go to court in this case of the Hatter brothers.

MAYO BARTLETT: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Brought them into a police station. And explain what happened in the police station.

MAYO BARTLETT: Well, in the police station, it’s my understanding that Officer Carelli struck these individuals while they were in handcuffs in the police station and yelled—called them "ragheads" as an anti-Arab statement that he made. And it’s my understanding that there are several other incidents where Officer Carelli has used excessive force against individuals. And—

AMY GOODMAN: So that case is going forward on September 4th.

MAYO BARTLETT: Yes, it is.

AMY GOODMAN: It was actually delayed. It was supposed to happen a month or two ago. Then there’s the case of Stephen Hart. He’s the one who used the N-word. What was he involved with?

MAYO BARTLETT: Well, I believe, if I’m not mistaken, that Stephen Hart was involved in the Hatter brothers matter, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Randy McLaughlin?

RANDOLPH McLAUGHLIN: He was involved in a Mexican-American banker, who again was arrested and allegedly beaten, falsely charged with crimes that he didn’t commit, obviously. They’re part of a group called the Neighborhood Conditions Unit, just like the Street Crimes Unit in New York. These are low—

AMY GOODMAN: Killed Amadou Diallo in 1999.

RANDOLPH McLAUGHLIN: That killed Amadou Diallo. And these are a group of cops who literally patrol certain areas, downtown White Plains and the housing development where Mr. Chamberlain was killed. And they’re—at least three of these officers have been involved in a number of incidents involving excessive force and racial slurs.

AMY GOODMAN: Ken Chamberlain, $21 million lawsuit—you’re leaving Democracy Now! today, and you’re filing it. While it bring you any kind of relief? We have about 15 seconds.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN JR.: Well, I don’t know so much it’s about relief. But again, it just is another step in accountability, because we need to pass laws, especially involving questionable police shootings.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll leave it there. I want to thank you very much, Ken Chamberlain Jr., also Randolph McLaughlin and Mayo Bartlett, the attorneys. That does it for our broadcast. By the way, on Wednesday, a July 4th special on the life, music and politics of Woody Guthrie. July 14th is the 100th anniversary of his birth.

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