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NY Grand Jury Probes Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. Amidst Broad Allegations of Police Misconduct

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Thursday is the birthday of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., the former Marine who was killed in his own home in White Plains, New York, by police after they were called when he accidentally activated his medical alert system. Chamberlain would have turned 69 years old. Today, a grand jury is set to begin reviewing evidence to see if the police committed a crime. We air part two of our recent interview with Kenneth Chamberlain’s son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., and the family’s lawyers, Mayo Bartlett and Abdulwali Muhammad. Bartlett discusses the latest in the case, and describes other cases of alleged police misconduct in White Plains, including individuals in a separate case who say officers beat them after they were booked them for a minor offense. “The police actually put hoods over their heads, similar to the way Lynndie England placed hoods over the individuals’ heads in Abu Ghraib. And they had anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments stated toward them by the White Plains Police Department,” says Bartlett, the 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. [includes rush transcript]

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tomorrow is the birthday of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. He’s the former Marine who was killed in his own home in White Plains, New York, by police after they were called when he accidentally activated his medical alert system. Chamberlain would have turned 69 years old. Today, a grand jury is set to begin reviewing evidence to see if the police committed a crime.

Last November, Chamberlain, who suffered from a heart condition, accidentally pressed the button on his medical alert system while sleeping. Responding to the alert, White Plains police officers arrived at Chamberlain’s apartment in a public housing complex shortly after 5 a.m. By the time the police left the apartment, Kenneth Chamberlain was dead. Police gained entry to Chamberlain’s apartment only after they took his front door off its hinges. Officers first shot him with a taser, then a beanbag shotgun, and then with live ammunition.

AMY GOODMAN: According to an autopsy report obtained by Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! co-host and columnist with the New York Daily News, Chamberlain died from a single bullet that entered his right arm and ripped through both lungs. A lawyer for Chamberlain’s family said the autopsy contradicts the police account of his death. Police say Chamberlain was holding a knife when police fired two shots to stop him. But an attorney for Chamberlain’s family said the trajectory of the fatal bullet suggests Chamberlain was neither facing the police nor holding up a weapon.

Well, today we play part two of our interview with the son of Kenneth Chamberlain, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., and the family’s lawyers, Mayo Bartlett and Abdulwali Muhammad. I began by asking Mayo Bartlett about some of the cases that he has represented over the years and the climate in White Plains, New York, right now. Mayo Bartlett is the 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. This is what he had to say.

MAYO BARTLETT: Within the housing authority itself, there are a lot of individuals who get arrested under what’s called a one-strike policy. And that basically is a bar-out policy in the public housing. And what we have is a rash of individuals who have been arrested for being in public housing, and they’re charged with trespass. And some of these people actually either work at public housing or they live there, or they’re going to visit friends or family members. And a number of these individuals are not on a bar-out list, they’re not trespassing, but they get arrested by police, and they will spend up to a week, and sometimes more, in jail because of this.

There also are other incidents that have occurred over the years, and it brings to mind one in particular, where I had clients, three individuals who were of Eastern European descent and were [mistaken for] Muslim, who had been arrested on Mamaroneck Avenue at a bar and actually were taken into custody by the White Plains police and, when given their pedigree information, were—actually had hoods placed on their heads, as—

AMY GOODMAN: When was this?

MAYO BARTLETT: This was, I believe, approximately three, maybe four, years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: No, say again what happened.

MAYO BARTLETT: These individuals were arrested by the White Plains Police Department. They were brought in to be booked for disorderly conduct and possibly a misdemeanor, something that you would expect they’d be released for. And they were beaten up. One individual was a recent law school graduate. And the police actually put hoods over their heads, similar to the way Lynndie England placed hoods over the individuals’ heads in Abu Ghraib. And they had anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment stated toward them by the White Plains Police Department.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to them?

MAYO BARTLETT: Well, these individuals, we discussed the possibility of going forward with a civil suit. The one individual expressed reservations because he thought there may be some repercussions with respect to his ability to practice law. And the brothers also were considering whether that was something that made sense for them to do, because when things like this happen, it takes a lot of courage to go forward, and it’s very intimidating.

AMY GOODMAN: Ken Chamberlain Jr. and Abdulwali Muhammad, you have gone to the White Plains Common Council—the city council, in many places, it’s called—to get them to respond to what happened to your father, Ken, Ken Chamberlain Sr., on November 21st of last year, police coming to the home at 5:00 in the morning, responding to a medical emergency. The LifeAid system that your father used, a medical pendant, because he had a bad heart, somehow had gone off, and the LifeAid company called the police to check on him. When they got there, he was OK. He said to them, “I’m not going to let you in, but I’m fine.” And that’s when they knocked down the door, tasered him and then shot him twice. Where did they shoot him, by the way?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN JR.: In the chest. I believe it was on the side. It wasn’t actually direct shots, from what I gathered from the doctor. I believe it entered in the side. And they said that the bullets—the doctor said to me that the bullets actually burst my father’s heart, and it severed his spine. And he was talking about the caliber of the bullet, but I don’t have any knowledge of that. I don’t know any specifics about that.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, you went on Democracy Now! last Thursday. You have been trying to get response from the authorities for months. You haven’t gotten that response. It’s now March. You’re bringing a lawsuit against the police officers. There has been a grand jury supposedly empaneled. But you don’t have the audiotapes freed, though you were able to listen to them, the LifeAid company’s audiotape of what happened, everything in the room. The medical alert company records what’s in the room. The taser video showed your father in his boxer shorts and no shirt, standing with his arms at his side. What response have you gotten from authorities?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN JR.: Well, after coming here, as you stated, it sort of put White Plains or the city of White Plains on notice. And I had sent a letter to the Common Council telling them that I was saddened at the fact that they hadn’t met with my family, they hadn’t responded to me, they hadn’t said anything about the death of my father. So, I knew that they had an upcoming council meeting that Monday. And that Sunday night, I received an email from the Common Council, where they sent me a letter saying that they were extending their condolences to my family and that they support a full and fair investigation around the events surrounding the death of my father.

AMY GOODMAN: And the mayor, Tom Roach, of White Plains is also on the Common Council?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN JR.: Yes, yes. All of their signatures are on that one letter.

AMY GOODMAN: Abdulwali Muhammad, you were there with Ken Chamberlain Jr. at the Common Council on Monday night. What were the Common Council members saying to you?

ABDULWALI MUHAMMAD: Both I and Mr. Chamberlain’s other attorney, Randy McLaughlin, were there accompanying him that evening. It’s my recollection they didn’t say anything at all.
They listened to Mr. Chamberlain, who eloquently reiterated our desire for a release of the officer’s name and also for the release of the tapes. He said what he had to say. We were also—a few other activists from the community spoke, as well, asked for the same thing. And the meeting was cut at that point.

AMY GOODMAN: These questions that Juan Gonzalez has asked in the New York Daily News — why has the White Plains Police Department refused for months to release the names of the officers involved? Mayo Bartlett, you were a prosecutor. How unusual is this?

MAYO BARTLETT: It’s fairly rare, because normally you will know the name of the individual, at least. You’ll know whether that officer is on desk duty or modified duty, or perhaps they don’t believe that the officer did anything wrong, they may not modify the duty. But you would generally know who that officer is.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you know anything about whether people were—even if you hadn’t known the name—we now know because of Juan Gonzalez’s reporting. It’s Anthony Carelli, the police officer involved in another case that is going to be heard in a month, just after this grand jury begins hearing testimony in the case of the killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, the two Hatter brothers, represented by Gus Dimopoulos, an attorney in the Westchester County who says that they were beaten by this officer, Anthony Carelli, that when one of the brothers—this is Jerry and Salameh Hatter—was handcuffed to a pole in the police station, that he was beaten by Anthony Carelli and also that he was called a “rag head.” His parents are Jordanian immigrants into the United States. Yet we have just found out the name of the officer. The question of authorities releasing the audio and videotapes, in the case of—in the case of Trayvon Martin’s death, we got the 911 audiotapes almost immediately.

MAYO BARTLETT: I think that, clearly, these tapes should be released, just for transparency purposes. I think that it’s very troubling that in the case of the brothers, that you have them being called “rag heads,” and you have them being beaten when they’re already restrained. And in this situation, we have a racial slur before they break into Mr. Chamberlain’s home and kill him. I think that it’s—

AMY GOODMAN: And that racial slur was?

MAYO BARTLETT: They called him the N-word. And they told him—when he said, “Please, sir, please leave me alone. I’m just a 68-year-old man with a heart condition,” and they said, “We don’t give an F—-,” and used the N-word. And that’s just absolutely unbecoming of any law enforcement officer or anyone who’s working for the city in any capacity. If you were there to sweep the streets, you shouldn’t respond to people that way.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of the authorities making the incident report public?

MAYO BARTLETT: The incident report, I think, should absolutely be public, because when we talk about having bureaus such as a Public Integrity Bureau, this is exactly why you would have that, so that the public can have confidence in its law enforcement. And when you do this, you end up tainting all of the officers who don’t respond this way. You end up making it more difficult for all of the good officers who go out and take their jobs seriously, because now when you see a White Plains police officer, you don’t know who you’re looking at. All of them now have this cloud over them. Instead of weeding out the handful that end up committing crimes like this, you now cast a doubt on all of the officers.

AMY GOODMAN: And Ken Chamberlain Jr., do you know the name of the ranking officer who was there? I mean, who authorized that first your father should be tasered? Who thought that that would then be minor compared to him being shot in the heart?

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN JR.: Again, none of that information has been made available. The only thing that I can honestly say is, in the beginning, they just tried to depict my father as a suspect rather than a victim. And I think that’s the most hurtful thing of all. And then to ask for the information, “Well, who was the person that shot and killed my father? Who is he?” “We can’t tell you. It’s under investigation.” And again, thanks to Juan and to Democracy Now!, now that information is out there. And then we hear why the name has been withheld: because he has a pending trial coming up, where he’s been charged with civil rights violations.

And I also read in the article where they said that although the word was used, he wasn’t the officer. I kind of expected that. Of course they’re going to say that he’s not the officer, because that would just be adding fuel to the fire. But the name—when you hear the N-word, it’s—whoever the officer is, it’s this consistent voice, over and over, that’s speaking to my father. Now, whether or not that’s Mr. Carelli, I can’t say, but whoever it is, that officer needs to be held accountable, as well.

MAYO BARTLETT: I would think we should know the name of that officer, as well, because it’s not enough simply to say that’s not the person who fired the fatal shot. If that person is there in any capacity, that person shouldn’t be working anymore as a White Plains police officer. I think that that should be made public as much as the name of the shooter.

AMY GOODMAN: Abdulwali Muhammad, shouldn’t you know the names of all of the officers who were there?

ABDULWALI MUHAMMAD: The situation was exacerbated by everyone who was present. You know, it may have culminated by that one officer shooting his gun, but everyone who was present bears responsibility.

AMY GOODMAN: And this wasn’t actually just the police department of White Plains, is that right?

MAYO BARTLETT: That’s correct.

ABDULWALI MUHAMMAD: Fire department was present, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: The fire department was present, because this was a medical emergency, so—


AMY GOODMAN: —the LifeAid company call the authorities, the police come, the fire department comes.

ABDULWALI MUHAMMAD: Mm-hmm, that’s correct.

MAYO BARTLETT: One of the things that happens is, when you work for civil service, you have—you have certain rights if you are protected by the union. And we all have the right to remain silent. We have the right not to incriminate ourselves. And that should be maintained by everyone. However, if other members of civil service—of the civil service union who work outside of law enforcement are engaged in any possible wrongdoing, they either give a statement with respect to what occurs or they are suspended, quite often without pay, and eventually terminated. It is unique within the police department that you can decline to make a statement, that you can get an attorney and maintain your silence, and maintain your job and continue to work without any kind of penalty. And I think that, if anything, the police department is the one area where you would expect that there should have to be a statement. And if you opt not to make that statement, that’s fine. That’s your right. But you should not continue to be employed as a law enforcement officer at that point.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayo Bartlett, one of the lawyers for the family of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. I also spoke with attorney Abdulwali Muhammad and with Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. His father was killed five months ago in his own home by police on November 19th. They were responding to the LifeAid company. Mr. Chamberlain had accidentally hit his medical alert pendant. The grand jury convenes today. The police officer, Anthony Carelli, who shot Chamberlain is expected to testify. Chamberlain would have turned 69 years old on Thursday, April 12th, if he had not been shot dead on November 19th.

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