The family of a man fatally shot by police in the Bronx last year – in an incident that also led to the friendly fire shooting death of an officer -- is suing the city and the NYPD, claiming officers’ questionable tactics were directly responsible for the fatalities.
Antonio Williams, 27, was killed outside Edenwald Houses on September 29th, 2019 by members of the now disbanded NYPD plainclothes unit. The lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court in the Bronx seeks unspecified damages for Williams’s 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. The Williams family is also calling for the officers involved in the shooting to be fired.
The incident, which came during a spate of shootings involving police officers, raised questions over whether officers followed the department’s own stop and frisk policies when they encountered Williams. Williams’s family, along with police reform advocates and some elected officials, assert that the officers involved in the incident unnecessarily escalated a situation with a questionable street stop that was followed by a foot chase. Police officers, by law, “must be able to articulate the factors” for stopping, questioning or frisking someone, as stated in the NYPD Patrol Guide.
According to police accounts, the six plainclothes officers were driving in two unmarked cars when they spotted Williams standing on the sidewalk outside Edenwald Houses on East 229th Street and Laconia Avenue. At the time of the shooting, the NYPD said it had increased patrols in the area following reports of gunfire days before. The Williams family said that Antonio, who lived in Binghamton, was waiting for a cab after visiting a friend.
Body-worn camera footage released by the NYPD last year shows three of the officers, including seven-year veteran Brian Mulkeen, quickly pulling up beside Antonio for reasons still unexplained. As they jump out of their car to approach him, Antonio runs. At least two officers pursued him, tackling him to the ground. During the struggle, officers fired a total of 15 rounds, killing both Williams and Mulkeen. Police say Williams was armed, but never fired his gun.
Mulkeen was the second officer shot and killed by friendly fire last year, raising questions over the adequacy of the NYPD’s firearms training. But shortly after his death, police blamed Williams for the deadly incident.
Shawn Williams, Antonio’s father, told reporters at a virtual news conference Tuesday that his son was mischaracterized by the NYPD and the media as a violent criminal.
“I’m here to say that my son was more than just some negative narrative that the police force created so they can fix the mess that they caused — for two people,” Shawn said.
The Williams family also released never-before-seen video they obtained from a security camera outside a NYCHA building showing another angle of the struggle between officers and Williams. The video was obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request by the coalition Communities United for Police Reform, which is working with the Williams family.
At one point in the video, two officers are on the ground wrestling with Williams and one officer is seen repeatedly punching Williams in the head. Another attorney working on the case, David Rankin, argued the violence was excessive and countered the effort to handcuff Antonio, if that was the officers’ goal.
“It looks to me from reviewing this video that these are completely unnecessary head punches,” Rankin said.
The video appears to show officers handcuffing Antonio after he is shot. At least five minutes pass before someone turns Antonio over, checks his pulse and then administers chest compressions. Mulkeen appears to be treated by officers immediately.
For Jonathan Moore, an attorney who represented plaintiffs in the city’s landmark stop and frisk case, Floyd v. The City of New York, and is now representing the Williams family, the case underscores missteps made by the NYPD in stopping Williams. Moore – who also represented plaintiffs in Daniels v. The City of New York, another stop and frisk case -- contends that if officers do not have a reasonable suspicion to stop someone, people have the legal right to walk or even run away.
“This is a very troubling incident in the history of the NYPD,” Moore said of the Williams case on Tuesday. “What was portrayed as somebody who was responsible for the death of the officer was actually — when you look at, when you analyze it — a death of not one, but two people as a result of the NYPD failing to implement its own guidelines.”
Those lawsuits led to court-ordered reforms to the NYPD’s stop and frisk practices, overseen by a federal monitor as part of a judge’s order. That work still continues.
The NYPD declined to comment on the lawsuit. The City Law Department has not yet responded to a request for comment.