A Manhattan judge has ordered the New York City Police Department to release a trove of documents from the case of Ramarley Graham, who was shot and killed in 2012 by an officer who has since left the department.
After a nearly two-year effort by Graham’s family and activist groups to obtain thousands of pages of documents that include police reports and interviews from the day that Police Officer Richard Haste shot and killed Graham, as well as crime scene photos, Graham’s autopsy and files pertaining to the NYPD’s investigation into his death, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez found that there is public interest in releasing many of the requested documents.
Mendez found that the department subjected Graham’s family and the activist groups, Communities United for Police Reform and the Justice Committee, to “unreasonable delay” in the case and rejected blanket denials by the city for requested files that it brought under exemptions to the state’s Freedom of Information Law, as well as the controversial Civil Rights Law 50-a, which allows law enforcement agencies to keep disciplinary records secret.
Graham was 18 years old on Feb. 2, 2012, when Haste barged into his apartment in the Bronx as part of a drug investigation and shot and killed Graham in his bathroom with his grandmother and his six-year-old brother.
Police said they believed that Graham was armed but no weapons were found on the scene.
Gideon Oliver, who represented the plaintiffs, said he argued to Mendez that the records were being used for traditional advocacy and pushed back against the city’s argument that releasing the records would put officers’ lives at risk.
Releasing the files, Oliver said, helps Graham’s family hold the city accountable for his death.
“Having a judge say that it is not right for the police department to rely on these blanket denials will be helpful for them and others moving forward,” Oliver said.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Evan Schnittman of the city’s Law Department appeared for the city in the case; a spokesman for the Law Department said it is reviewing the decision.
In 2015, Graham’s family received a $3.9 million settlement from the city, but the officers involved with his death have avoided criminal penalties.
Haste was indicted for manslaughter following Graham’s death, but a judge threw out the indictment for improper jury instructions and another grand jury declined to charge him.
In 2016, federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced that they found insufficient evidence to bring charges against Haste.
But last year, Haste, who faced departmental charges, quit the force after he learned that it was recommended that he be fired.
Additionally, Police Sgt. Scott Morris, who was the supervising officer at the scene of Graham’s death, resigned from the force; and Officer John McLoughlin, who kicked in Graham’s door, was placed on one-year dismissal probation.
Andrew Denney is a New York-based reporter covering litigation and other news from the federal and state courts. He can be reached at adenney [at] alm.com. Twitter: @messagetime