A few months before his big brother, Ramarley Graham, was shot to death by a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer, 6-year-old Chinnor Campbell was being bullied in school. His 18-year-old brother showed him how to put up his hands to defend himself and demonstrated how to punch using a pillow. “You’ve got to fight back, or people will keep bullying you,” Ramarley coached.
Their mother, Constance Malcolm, says these lessons were typical of their relationship: "Ramarley would take him to the park, pick him up from school, just do what a big brother would do with his little brother.”
Chinnor didn’t have his big brother’s guidance for much longer. On February 2, 2012, a White NYPD officer named Richard Haste entered Graham’s Bronx apartment and fired a fatal shot into his chest. He was only feet away, as was their maternal grandmother, Patricia Hartley.
Graham would be turning 24 today (April 12) if Haste and his colleagues had not followed him home from a bodega they were surveilling, kicked in the door and fatally shot him.
Local media have covered Graham’s case consistently, due in large part to his family's sustained activism. But his shooting did not receive the level of nationwide attention that later police killings of Black men and boys would. Graham was slain 2 1/2 years before the Ferguson protests would place a renewed spotlight on police violence and direct action against it. That quirk of time means that many people don’t know who he is.
Yet, his case starkly illustrates the extent to which the justice system is tilted in favor of the police. It shows the depth of the structural racism embedded in law enforcement. And it offers a glimpse into what a grieving family endures while their loved one’s case drags on for years with no resolution, accountability or sense of justice.
“Why Did You Shoot Him? Why You Kill Him?”
In a 2013 civil suit against the City of New York, Graham’s grandmother gave her account of the shooting and its immediate aftermath. His mom provided additional details to Colorlines in a January 2017 telephone interview. Here is their version of what happened:
Hartley had just brought Chinnor home from school and was in the living room while he changed out of his school clothes. She heard commotion outside their apartment and walked toward the front door to see what was going on. Graham was behind her.
That’s when police kicked in the door.
Hartley jumped back, and Officer Haste, gun drawn, ran toward her and Ramarley. The grandmother maintains that neither she, nor her grandsons heard police identify themselves or issue any warning. Graham retreated to a hallway bathroom, but moments later, Haste shot him.
Malcolm says that her mother initially believed she was the one who had been shot. “She tell me she look at her chest area and didn’t see any blood,” Malcolm recounted in her Jamaican lilt. “She remember that Ramarley was behind her, but when she looked behind her, she didn’t see him. She looked down, and that’s when she saw him. His head was into the bathroom, his legs were hanging out the bathroom.”
Hartley screamed, “Why did you shoot him? Why you kill him?” and Haste pushed the 85-pound woman backward into a vase, warning her to “get the f**k away before I have to shoot you, too!”
Hartley attempted to make a phone call, but a female cop whom Hartley hadn’t seen enter the apartment twisted her arm behind her back. A male officer grabbed her by the neck, pushed her into a chair and threatened to handcuff her if she moved. Hartley saw her grandson’s legs “moving and trembling,” but when she tried to approach him, police pushed her back.
After the fatal incident, police took Hartley and Chinnor, who was wearing only a red T-shirt and his underwear, outside in the winter cold. Officers then drove Hartley to the 47th Precinct leaving her surviving grandson with a downstairs neighbor, Eric Dixon.
Malcolm came home at 3:30 p.m. to find her home cordoned off. Without telling her what had happened, police took her to the precinct. “They killed ’Marley!” Hartley yelled when she saw her daughter. Police then locked the elderly woman in a room and questioned her for hours.
“They interrogated my mom for seven hours trying to put words in her mouth," said Malcolm in late March 2017, at one of the many press conferences she and her volunteer support team have arranged over the last five years. “She stood her ground, because she knows what she saw.”
“They Gave No Time For Real Investigation.”
Graham was pronounced dead at 3:53 p.m. at Montefiore Hospital, 52 minutes after Haste shot him. Video from the apartment’s surveillance cameras shows paramedics carrying the teen out the front door on a backboard and placing him on a gurney at 3:20.
Malcolm believes that her son was already dead and that police and paramedics lost critical evidence by disturbing the scene. “They gave no time for real investigation,” she said at a press conference on January 24. “There was no medical examiner. It was all because they wanted to cover up what happened.”
Unlike officers in similar cases, Haste went before a grand jury four months after he killed Graham. That panel recommended that he be indicted for first- and second-degree manslaughter. But in May 2013, a Bronx County Supreme Court judge overturned the decision on grounds that the jury had received improper instructions.
A second grand jury was convened later that year, but it failed to indict Haste. The family filed a civil lawsuit against the City of New York for civil rights violations in 2013 and settled nearly two years later, for $3.9 million.
In March 2016, federal prosecutors declined to file civil rights charges, closing the pathway to criminal indictment. Haste did, however, have a departmental trial this past January.
Haste’s disciplinary trial consisted of five days of testimony from 11 witnesses: NYPD investigators, inspectors, trainers and the other officers from the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit (SNEU) he was a member of. Noticeably absent from the witness list were any civilians, including Graham’s grandmother and Dixon, the downstairs neighbor.
Without civilian testimony, the NYPD shaped the entire narrative, consistently referring to Graham as “the perp” and an “imminent threat.” They cast him “walking with a purpose” and placing his hands in his waistband as suspicious, furtive, criminal behavior. The defense, multiple police witnesses and even the prosecution repeatedly suggested that Graham had been armed. Defense attorney Stuart London, contracted by the NYPD police union, insinuated that Graham was responsible for his own demise by not complying with Haste’s command to show his hands.
“I Would Have Been Justified In Any Response.”
Unsurprisingly, significant discrepancies exist between the family’s account and what Haste and his SNEU colleagues—Sgt. Scott Morris and officers John McLoughlin, Andrew Jarvis, Tyrone Horne and Chris Crocitto—said on the stand.
In their telling, Haste’s recently revived anti-drug unit had been monitoring a “drug-prone” bodega near Graham’s home. Jarvis and Horne, the two observation point members of the team, testified that they saw the teen enter the store and leave quickly. Their suspicions were roused, they said, because Graham—whom they described in their radio communications as a Black male in a blue hoodie—was “walking as if he had a purpose” and “kept making adjustments to front waist band of pants.” Jarvis testified that he saw the butt of a gun and confirmed to his sergeant that the suspect was armed.
According to Haste’s testimony, Graham entered his three-story building. Haste pursued him, but the door was locked. Gun drawn, the officer went around to the back of the house. A small child opened the back door, followed by a young man who gestured upwards in response to Haste asking if a teenager lived there.
Haste went through the house to the front door, opened it for McLoughlin and Crocitto, and went with McLoughlin to the second-floor apartment. “McLoughlin knocked and said ‘Police, open up!’” Haste testified. “There was no verbal response, but we heard shuffling.”
McLaughlin looked at Haste, asked, “Are you ready?” and kicked in the door. Haste claimed he entered the apartment, saw Graham in the hallway and said, “Police, stop, hands up!” Graham, he said, cursed at him with his hands in his waistband and “sidestepped with a purpose” into the bathroom.
“I didn’t know…who was in the apartment…I hadn’t seen anyone else at that point,” Haste said. The officer claimed that after seeing Graham reach further into his pants, he shouted, “Gun! Gun!” and fired his fatal shot. “I would have been justified in any response,” Haste said on the witness stand.
Police never found a gun, either on Graham, or in the apartment. Police say they recovered a bag of marijuana from the toilet. Richard Haste and his sergeant, Scott Morris, were stripped of their weapons and placed on desk duty.
“A Longstanding Tradition In The Police Department Is The ‘Evolving Narrative.’”
Along with the discrepancies between the family’s account and the officers,' the police version itself shifted over time. In the NYPD’s initial account, chief spokesperson Paul Browne said that Graham ran into his building, pursued by officers. Browne also claimed there was a struggle between Graham and Haste at the bathroom door.
But on February 4, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly acknowledged that there had been no struggle, and the landlord’s surveillance video footage reveals Graham walking calmly inside. The family believes the NYPD made those initial statements to sway public opinion against Graham. His mother is also skeptical about the marijuana the police say they found. “This man, after he shot my son, he was standing there with my son alone…so who knows?” she asked in an interview.
“A longstanding tradition in the police department is the ‘evolving narrative,’ which is more widely known as ‘testilying,’” said Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in an interview. “[Police officers] will often tell one story to their colleagues and supervisors immediately after an incident, and another as evidence emerges that pokes holes in their original narratives.” Though the “evolving narrative” practice is widely known, says Warren, “cops are also generally considered to be more credible than other witnesses when there are discrepancies.”
Malcolm says Haste’s departmental trial was difficult for her to witness. "It was hard to sit there and listen to them talking and how they were characterizing my son…basically like he’s a thug," Malcolm told Colorlines. “This person they were describing wasn’t my son.”
Also painful for the family was the extent to which the police narrative erased Graham’s grandmother and little brother. Family members called out, “[Patricia Hartley] is right here!” when Haste testified that he didn’t know who was in the house when he shot Graham. “I can’t take these lies!” Hartley exclaimed during Haste’s testimony.
“In the trial, you hear about Ramarley and Richard Haste, you hear nothing about my mom and my [younger] son. And they were in the house,” says Malcolm. “It was my mom that was screaming in the court, because she felt like she didn’t exist. And they were telling that story that wasn’t true.”
The erasure of civilian witnesses also meant that the danger and abuse Hartley faced were not addressed. “He could have shot [my mother,]” says Malcolm, who believes that Haste should also have faced endangerment charges. “You didn’t hear that in the trial.”
“You Shouldn’t Go To The Mayor’s Office Behind Our Backs.”
One particular absurdity may explain the court’s omissions: Haste was not facing discipline for killing an unarmed teenager. The NYPD Firearms Discharge Review Board had already determined that the shooting itself was justified, which had the effect of taking that charge off the table. He was instead tried for using poor tactical judgment leading up the fatal shot. London—who also defended Eric Garner’s killer, Officer Daniel Pantaleo—went so far as to repeatedly describe the shooting as “good” throughout the trial.
According to Beth Douglas, the prosecuting attorney for the NYPD Department Advocate’s Office, Haste’s poor tactics included his failure to establish a secure perimeter around the house, to clear the first-floor apartment, or to even know which floor Graham’s apartment was on. Additionally, stated Douglas, police did not need to kick in the door. There were “no cries or screams for help. No sound of gunshots,” she said in her opening statement at Haste’s departmental trial. NYPD Inspector Gregory Sheehan testified that he had never encountered tactical violations as egregious as Haste’s.
Much of Haste’s defense rested on the question of who was responsible for his unit’s errors. His attorney, London, argued that people higher up the command chain were at fault.
The SNEU in which he worked had many problems including understaffing. He and his colleagues were required to be in full uniform, but were wearing civilian clothing beneath NYPD raid jackets. Haste and McLoughlin, the officer who kicked in the door, didn’t receive specialized training.
Days after Graham’s killing, NYPD Commissioner Kelly ordered a citywide audit of SNEU teams. Colorlines repeatedly attempted to obtain a copy of the audit in February from Lt. John Grimpel at the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information (DCIP). Those attempts were unsuccessful.
Colorlines then contacted Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office and was directed back to DCIP. In a February 17 conversation, Grimpel then told a reporter, “You shouldn’t go to the mayor’s office behind our backs. …If you want to go to the mayor’s office again you can, but I advise you not to.” Colorlines asked Grimpel what he meant, but the lieutenant hung up the phone.
Had the audit been released, Colorlines intended to examine why Haste’s now-defunct unit was monitoring Graham’s Bronx neighborhood. How did SNEU decide which communities to patrol? Studies indicate that Blacks and Whites use marijuana at similar rates. Did SNEU patrol middle-class White neighborhoods as heavily as poor neighborhoods populated with people of color?
“Quotas Have The Effect Of Generating Police Activity Even When None Is Called For.”
What makes Graham’s case endemic is what it says about the NYPD’s culture. The family’s civil suit notes street stops increased seven-fold between 2002 and 2012, disproportionately targeting non-White neighborhoods. When it came to bias influenced by race, gender and age, “Ramarley fit to a tee.”
Allegations of racial bias were substantiated in the landmark 2013 decision in Floyd v. the City of New York, which found that the NYPD had a pattern of racial profiling and used monthly quota systems to push cops to conduct stops, searches and summons. Graham’s civil suit surfaced one method that officers used to fulfill their quotas—a practice known as “next up.”
“The defendants engaged in a system or practice wherein officers would rotate arrests and who would catch them. That way all members of the ‘team’ would meet their numbers,” the lawsuit states, continuing that, “On February 2, 2012, at approximately 3:00 p.m., Haste was ‘next up.’”
“Quotas and how they are incentivized have the effect of generating police activity even when none is called for,” says CCR’s Warren. Even worse, says Warren, is that “next up” encourages team members to compete. “Incentives like this create solutions in search of problems. And the ‘problems’ are members of Black and Brown communities.”
Adding to the dangerous backdrop of Graham’s fatal shooting was what a 2015 investigation by the city’s Office of the Inspector General described as a “vague and imprecise” use-of-force policy and officers who were not sufficiently trained to de-escalate situations.
The study named race as a factor in who was on the receiving end of the NYPD’s use of force. Over half of complaints about excessive force were from Blacks, who represent less than a quarter of the city’s population. And, in more than 35 percent of substantiated complaints of unwarranted excessive force, the NYPD failed to discipline the cops responsible.
Police unions also contribute to the corrosive climate. In a January 13, 2017, investigative report, Reuters found that 82 cities hold police union contracts that protect officers with complaints lodged against them. In 46 of those cities, including New York City, the protection involves erasing disciplinary records. NYPD officers who undergo a disciplinary trial resulting in a verdict other than “guilty” may petition to have their record expunged after two years.
All this plays into a culture of policing where, according to the civil suit, police officers felt that they were free to conduct baseless stop-and-frisks, enter civilians’ homes without probable cause, use unnecessary and excessive force, intimidate witnesses, and engage in a conspiracy, or “blue wall of silence,” to file false reports or give false statements. Cops, alleged the suit, used catchall phrases such as “furtive movements,” or “displayed what appeared to be a gun” to justify unconstitutional conduct that went unpunished by their supervisors.
This is the police culture that prompted Haste and his colleagues to tail Graham, kick down his door and fatally shoot him. It is the same culture that Malcolm encountered watching Haste testify without observing any sign of remorse. “That was his opportunity to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and he never really did that. Instead, he justified killing my son,” she told Colorlines.
“I Don’t Want To Have To Bury Another Child.”
At the conclusion of Haste’s trial, Graham supporters chanted “Fire Richard Haste!” while Graham’s family stood in unison and removed their outer layer of clothing, revealing white T-shirts with bold black lettering. Malcolm’s T-shirt read, “Officer Haste should NOT have entered my house.” Hartley’s: “I watched Officer Haste murder my grandson, then threaten to shoot me too.” Now 11, little brother Chinnor wore a shirt that said, “I was 4.5 feet away when Officer Haste murdered my brother.”
Adding to the family’s anxiety was the possibility that police might choose to withhold the verdict of the Haste hearing. Through Section 50-a of New York State’s Civil Rights Law, personnel records for law enforcement remain confidential, including internal affairs files, civilian complaints and disciplinary findings.
On March 26, a Sunday, Malcolm got news from her attorney: Haste had been found guilty of all charges in his departmental trial two days prior and had quit. “They may have found him guilty, but [the ruling] is not in my favor, because at the end of the day, Richard Haste is walking scot-free,” Malcolm said at a March 27 press conference. She was angry that the department warned Haste of coming disciplinary action and permitted him to resign rather than be fired. Colorlines attempted to contact Haste through his attorney, London, but did not receive a response.
The family now has six demands for the city and police department. It wants the other two officers facing disciplinary charges, Sergeant Morris and Officer McLoughlin, to be fired. It wants to be sure that Richard Haste receives no benefits and won’t ever be permitted to carry a gun. It wants to meet with Mayor de Blasio, a request that has been denied for years. It wants NYPD deputy commissioner of trials Rosemarie Maldonado’s ruling to be publicly released. And it wants the department to comply with a massive Freedom of Information Act request filed in September 2016. That request for records and documents would, among other things, reveal the identities and disciplinary histories of at least 12 officers at Graham’s home the day he was shot, any tips and official complaints that led Haste’s SNEU to monitor the bodega, and the roll call of all of the officers on duty at the 47th Precinct the day of the shooting. The NYPD declined to fulfill any parts of the request. The family plans to sue the department to get the records.
“How can I move forward and heal? There’s no room for that, because I still have no answers.” Malcolm said at the late March presser, fighting back tears. “But I guarantee, I will never give up.”
Today, on what should be Ramarley’s 24th birthday, Malcolm returns to an apartment without the music that Ramarley used to blare first thing every morning. She returns to a home without Ramarley patting his freshly groomed hair in the mirror and saying, “I look good, right?” She returns to a grief so profound that she no longer celebrates holidays. And she returns to a reality where she worries for the safety of her second son, Chinnor. “I don’t know how he might react to a police officer,” she says. “I could tell him all I want [to listen to police], but I can’t take away from what he saw. He saw what he saw.”
And Malcolm is not only fighting for Ramarley. “I still have to raise a Black boy in this country,” she says of her 11-year-old. "I don’t want to have to bury another child.”
Watch Constance Malcolm talk about her family's journey in this video by Colorlines producer Tiye Rose.
Jen Marlowe is an award-winning author, documentary filmmaker, playwright, social justice activist and founder of Donkeysaddle Projects. Her play “There Is A Field” toured to universities in spring 2016, drawing connections between oppressions facing Palestinians and those facing Black and Brown communities in the U.S. Her books include “I Am Troy Davis,” “The Hour of Sunlight” and “Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival.” Her films include “Witness Bahrain” and “One Family in Gaza.” Follow her on Twitter at @donkeysaddleorg.
Amy Myers is a law student from Melbourne, Australia. She recently worked with Indigenous inmates at Port Philip Prison in Victoria as part of a pilot program fostering two-way learning between incarcerated people and the community. Prior to that she interned at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in New Orleans where she provided research assistance on the “Blackstrikes Project,” a study that empirically proved racial bias in the selection of juries. Amy just completed an internship at the Center for Constitutional Rights.