NAACP representatives and others renewed demands Saturday for accountability and punishment in the case of a White Plains man fatally shot by police responding to his medical-alert alarm.
The man, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., was 68 and wielding a knife, police said, when he was shot last November in his apartment in the Winbrook housing complex. The killing has sparked a furious community backlash, a subsequent grand jury investigation and, still under way, a federal civil-rights probe. The City of White Plains has also launched an independent review.
But under a bright-blue sky and midday sunshine, a succession of angry speakers were not mollified by the investigations. They criticized not only the responding officers but also their superiors in the department and the district attorney who conducted the grand jury probe.
“The fish rots at the head,” Chamberlain family lawyer Randolph M. McLaughlin said in calling to account White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong and Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore.
Hazel N. Dukes, president of the state NAACP, urged justice for the Chamberlain family in her address at the Thomas Slater Center on Fischer Court.
Chamberlain’s son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., has called on the city to suspend all of the officers who responded to the apartment, at 135 S. Lexington Ave., until federal prosecutors have completed their investigation.
The younger Chamberlain maintains that after his father, a heart patient, accidently set off his medical-alert device in the pre-dawn hours last Nov. 19, he was harassed, taunted and, in one instance, subjected to a racial slur by the officers who responded to the call. The elder Chamberlain,whose autopsy showed that he was legally intoxicated during the incident, repeatedly told the police that he did not need assistance.
“The officers went to Mr. Chamberlain’s home to support the medical-alert team,” Leroy Gadsden of the state NAACP organization noted. “They didn’t go there as a response to a criminal disturbance or a call for police protection.”
Despite assurances that Chamberlain did not require assistance, his son said, the police continued to upset the older man before wrongfully forcing their way into his apartment, precipitating the fatal confrontation.
The police, for their part, described the elderly former corrections officer and Marine as emotionally disturbed and said they could not leave before making certain that all was well in the apartment. According to police reports released by the White Plains Department of Public Safety, police were aware that Chamberlain had a criminal background.
When officers tried to break down the locked apartment door, police said, Chamberlain threatened them verbally and with a number of knives. Police tried a Taser charge and fired bean-bag rounds, all to no effect, according to official reports, before Officer Anthony Carelli fatally shot Chamberlain as he went after a sergeant with a knife.
Damon Jones, a county corrections officer and member of the Blacks in Law Enforcement in America, called on “politicians, and especially the black politicians” to take a stand against indiscriminate police shooting or, “We will vote you out of office.”
While Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore called Chamberlain’s death “tragic,” she said in a May 3 statement that after “an exhaustive review of the evidence,” a 23-member grand jury found “there was no reasonable cause to vote an indictment.”
The next day, prodded by Chamberlain family lawyer Randolph M. McLaughlin, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, announced his own probe. Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman, said federal prosecutors “will review all of the available evidence . . . including the evidence collected during the state’s investigation, to determine whether there were any violations of the federal criminal civil rights laws.”
Both Carelli, who fired the fatal shot, and Officer Steven Hart, accused of calling Chamberlain the “n-word” in what’s described as an attempt to distract him, have been placed temporarily on modified desk duty.
The NAACP’s Gadsden said, “These officers and [their] supervisors at the very least should be terminated and, at the very most, should be tried and convicted” for killing Chamberlain.
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