Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark on Nov. 17 released police body camera and hallway surveillance footage showing the moment when NYPD officers entered a Black queer man’s apartment last year and shot him to death in a case that has fueled outrage.
Clark also unveiled a report outlining the incident more than a year and a half after 32-year-old Kawaski Trawick was gunned down by police on April 14, 2019, at Hill House, a supportive living environment at 1616 Grand Avenue in the Bronx.
The footage and report reaffirmed the anger of advocates and family members who have maintained that officers failed to properly de-escalate the situation before resorting to killing a man in his own apartment. Trawick’s family is also warning the public that they feel the report released by the DA is biased.
The fatal shooting concluded a brief but chaotic encounter during which the superintendent of Trawick’s building and a security guard both called police and alleged that Trawick was annoying neighbors. Trawick had also called 911 that same evening and said there was a fire and that he was locked out of his apartment, which culminated in the fire department opening his apartment for him. A fire was never found and records of calls with dispatchers notably indicate Trawick was experiencing distress.
When a pair of NYPD cops subsequently arrived on the scene, Officer Herbert Davis initially knocked on Trawick’s door. When nobody answered, Davis knocked again, but then opened Trawick’s door without his permission.
With the door opened, Trawick — who was holding a stick and a serrated knife and said he was cooking — asked why the cops entered his apartment. Officers ignored the question and asked him repeatedly to put down his knife.
Trawick then walked away from the officers to turn off a radio in his apartment, according to the report, before facing the officers and again asking why they were in his home.
After Davis unsuccessfully asked Trawick to drop the knife, the other officer, Brendan Thompson, tased Trawick, knocking him to the ground.
Thompson dropped the taser to the ground, holstered his gun, and walked into the apartment, according to the report. Within seconds, however, Trawick got up and screamed at the officers. Thompson was unable to tase Trawick again because he had ditched his taser, so he proceeded to shoot Trawick four times with his gun. One of the shots struck Trawick in the heart, killing him nearly instantly, according to the report.
It does not appear police officers ever answered Trawick’s questions asking why they were in his apartment and there is no explanation as to why Thompson dropped his taser — which wound up being a key factor in the turn of events leading up to the deadly use of force.
Before the video was released to the family and later to the public, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams had an opportunity to view it. He offered his reaction during an interview with Gay City News last year.
“I don’t believe our officers are trained for first instinct,” he said. “In the video, it was quite clear that they had every opportunity to come out of that house and instead they stayed in. There was a knife in his kitchen — I don’t know where else you would have a knife than in a kitchen. [The police] just opened the door. Think about how you would feel if somebody opened the door.”
Nonetheless, Clark stated in August that the officers would not face criminal charges. While she acknowledged that the case should yield “a thoughtful review of police procedures and training techniques,” Clark said, “We do not find the facts warrant a criminal prosecution.”
In a press release issued after the report was released, Clark said the investigation into Trawick’s death revealed that the pair of police officers were not equipped with information that would have been helpful when they responded to the scene.
“Once again, we have a death that painfully illustrates that changes are needed in the response to those in mental health crisis, and that we as a community must do better to provide appropriate assistance for residents of supportive housing in the city,” Clark said in a written statement. “There must be treatment and services readily available to prevent persons from reaching a point where they may cause harm to themselves or others.”
After Trawick’s family reviewed the video in August, his mother, Ellen Trawick, slammed Clark for opting not to pursue charges against the officers. Trawick’s mother again spoke up after the report and video were released to the public and demanded that Thompson and Davis get booted from the NYPD.
“It’s crystal clear from the video and the facts that NYPD Officers Brendan Thompson and Herbert Davis unnecessarily killed my son,” she said. “Kawaski was cooking in his own apartment, not a threat to anyone when Davis and Thompson entered his home without permission and immediately escalated the encounter resulting in Kawaski’s death.”
She added, “They refused to answer when my son repeatedly asked them why they were in his home. Thompson tased my son out of nowhere, even though Kawaski posed no threat — and then he shot and killed my son. Neither officer gave any aid while my son lay dying on the floor. If Thompson and Davis had treated Kawaski like a human being, he would be alive today. Because of the failure of the Bronx DA to indict these officers, I’m focused today on fighting to make sure that Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD fire Thompson and Davis because the way they killed my son makes them a clear danger to New Yorkers.”
Trawick’s mother also described the report as one that was “written in a biased way that summarizes the incident by reiterating NYPD talking points instead of highlighting the multiple problems with the officers’ actions and failures…”
Royce Russell, an attorney representing Trawick’s family, also raised concerns about the report and said it “has a slant by way of omissions, which clouds the air of transparency.” Russell called on Clark to show full transparency and release all relevant documents and reports.
Justice Committee and Communities United for Police Reform, a pair of organizations working to fight police violence in New York City, ripped the report and echoed Trawick’s mother’s calls to fire the police officers.
“Kawaski Trawick was a Black queer man who was gunned down by police in his home, where he should have been safe,” Ileana Méndez-Peñate, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, said in a written statement.
In addition to the firings, Méndez-Peñate said Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea should remove police from “all mental health response” in the city.
Loyda Colon, co-director of Justice Committee, said the report sought to excuse Thompson and Davis from accountability and cover for the DA’s failure to deliver justice for Trawick’s family.
“These are further injustices done to Kawaski Trawick’s family, on top of the NYPD’s unnecessary murder of their son,” Colon explained in a written statement. “To add insult to injury, this report and decision comes after the DA’s office spent more than a year and a half dragging their feet on their investigation and mistreating the Trawick family. This whole time, Officers Thompson and Davis — who chose to escalate their encounter with Mr. Trawick despite there being no need — have continued to collect City paychecks and pose a threat to New Yorkers. We stand with the Trawick family in their demand that Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Shea not replicate the failure of the Bronx DA and instead immediately fire the officers who killed Kawaski Trawick.”