At the close of the last century, the New York City Police Department switched from full-metal-jacket bullets to hollow points. It was a move meant to spare lives — in theory, anyway: The old bullets had a tendency to pass through their targets and endanger bystanders, while hollow points expand after impact, inflicting greater damage to internal organs but also increasing the likelihood that the bullet will slow to a halt inside the body. And so, on February 2, 2012, when Officer Richard Haste shot 18-year-old Ramarley Graham — who was unarmed, standing in his own bathroom — the hollow-point bullet did just that. Less than a millisecond after being fired, the Speer Gold Dot 9-mm. round struck Graham’s chest and blossomed as it bore a jagged tunnel through his aorta, trachea, and right lung. Seconds later, Graham was all but dead, facedown on the tile floor.
There was no video. The NYPD offered a tidy and by-now-familiar explanation: A police officer thought a young, unarmed black man had a gun and, fearing for his life, made a fatal miscalculation. A thorough investigation would follow, the police said. While it did, One Police Plaza controlled the narrative, and the scant information that was made public was riddled with inconsistencies.
Graham was killed three weeks before Trayvon Martin and more than two years before Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson and Eric Garner died at the hands of New York City cops. Had the shooting occurred a month later, Graham’s death might have been a rallying point for the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead, it was a local issue rather than a flashpoint in a crisis of national identity. Haste’s defense leaned on “final-frame analysis,” which exculpates any “objectively reasonable” officer who, at the moment he pulled the trigger, feared for his or anyone else’s life or safety. The officers who killed Tamir Rice and Terence Crutcher were both cleared by their own final-frame analyses, which is what has so angered activists: the sense that the judicial system is, in effect, rigged to value an officer’s right to make a mistake over the life of a young black man.
The Graham family has its own final-frame analysis. To them, only one piece of evidence, or lack thereof, matters: Graham was unarmed. Neither side questions the essentials of the other’s analysis. Haste feared for his life, and Graham had no gun. But just about everything else — from Haste’s right to enter the apartment, to the location of Graham’s body on the floor, to the NYPD’s foot-dragging on the case — has been disputed. In the details of that conflict (gleaned through police documents never seen before by the public and in extensive interviews with both Graham’s family and friends as well as Haste), it is possible to see how cases like this one are almost impervious to closure, especially for the victim’s family. Lately, right after such shootings, marches are organized, grand juries are assembled, and op-eds are penned about a system that’s content in its disrepair. But in Graham’s case, it wasn’t until long after the hollow-point bullet lodged itself in the fibrous tissue of his upper back that the full — and complicated — measure of that system revealed itself.
Ramarley Graham often picked up his 6-year-old half-brother, Chinnor, from school. At home, Graham would help Chinnor with his homework, show him how to do push-ups, and teach him to defend himself from kids who picked on him for being soft. (Ramarley was gentle, too, his friends told me, so he knew how that went.) They’d watch Animal Planet, play video games, or go to the park. But that February 2, Patricia Hartley, the boys’ grandmother, went to get Chinnor instead. Graham was with his friends, Jahmoy McKenzie and Travis Breckenridge, at McKenzie’s house. They smoked a little weed and, knowing McKenzie’s mother would be home soon, moved on, stopping at a bodega. Then Graham headed home to change — he had plans to see girls later.
Wakefield hangs above the city about as far north in the Bronx as one can go before crossing into Westchester. It’s a largely West Indian neighborhood where businesses on White Plains Road, the main thoroughfare, proudly display the Jamaican flag. It was along that avenue, under the elevated tracks of the 2 and 5 trains, that officers Tyrone Horne and Andrew Jarvis first saw something they regarded as suspicious. They were part of a Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit, staking out corners and trap houses. By 2012, most of the city’s precincts had eliminated their SNEUs, as street deals had declined, but not in the 47th Precinct; the department thought that a SNEU could still make “quality arrests” in the North Bronx. Sitting in a parked Lexus, Horne and Jarvis, who are both black, watched three black male teenagers walk into and then quickly out of a bodega.
According to internal documents from the NYPD’s Firearm Discharge Review Board investigation obtained by New York, Horne was the first to see what he thought was the butt of a gun sticking out from one teen’s waistband. Later, Horne would tell investigators that Graham looked suspicious because he’d been “walking with a purpose,” and Jarvis would confirm that he saw a gun. They relayed the sighting to the others on the team before following the teens up White Plains Road.
Sergeant Scott Morris, the officer in charge of the SNEU, was sitting in an unmarked sedan a few blocks away. Morris asked Horne and Jarvis to confirm what they had seen. “I definitely see the gun,” came Horne’s reply, according to another officer’s statement. “It’s under his shirt.”
Haste, then 30, perked up when he heard Horne say “gun.” In a series of interviews, Haste described the incident and subsequent fallout to me in great detail. He was parked nearby at the steering wheel of the “p-van” (prisoner van), a 12-passenger Ford Econoline. Haste, who had been in the SNEU for just two months, had worked in the 47th Precinct since graduating from the Police Academy three years earlier and had impressed his superiors by racking up 175 arrests. He told me that he chose to join the SNEU after learning the department didn’t have much use for a white guy as an undercover cop. For the same reason, Haste rarely manned the SNEU’s observation post — he’d stick out too much — and when he did, he’d dress as an MTA employee. Mostly he drove the p-van.
Excited to make an arrest, Haste drove toward Graham. Halfway down a residential street, Haste and his partner, John Mcloughlin, stopped the van and ran at the teenager, who had peeled off from his friends. Video surveillance taken from a camera outside Graham’s building shows him glancing over his shoulder in Haste’s direction before quickly walking into the house. Even before the door closes, Haste, dressed in a blue NYPD windbreaker, runs toward him. But by the time he gets to the door, it’s locked. Haste tries to kick in the door, but it doesn’t budge. A few minutes later, the first-floor tenant lets Haste in through the back door. Haste and Mcloughlin climbed up to the second floor, where Haste said he knocked before his partner kicked in the door to Graham’s apartment.
Inside, Haste saw Graham at the end of a narrow hallway. Gun drawn, Haste said he yelled blanket commands: “Police!” “Show me your hands!” According to Haste, Graham, with his hands in his waistband, hurried into the bathroom while yelling, “Fuck you, suck my dick.” Haste approached the bathroom and peered in to see Graham facing him with his hands still in his pants. Haste says he yelled, “Gun!” and pulled the trigger. He doesn’t remember seeing Graham fall to the floor. Haste also never saw the teenager throw pot — which is what newspapers would report he’d been reaching for in his pants — into the toilet (a bag was found in the bowl). All he remembers is Mcloughlin yanking on the back of his bulletproof vest and yelling, “Are you hit?” Haste tensed his muscles. He was fine. As another officer escorted him out, with Graham’s blood on his khaki pants, Haste passed Morris, whose eyes searched Haste’s face for an explanation. “I thought he was reaching,” Haste said, according to Morris’s statement.
Haste told me that one of his first thoughts after pulling the trigger was Shit, I’m jammed up, copspeak for police who are sidelined. Still unsure if Graham was dead or alive, Haste knew he was about to be overwhelmed by an investigation. And he was: A member of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association approached Haste and told him to talk to Horne, who was suddenly unsure if he’d said he saw a gun or he thought he saw a gun. Horne’s equivocation floored Haste, but he feared talking to him would be a red flag for the Internal Affairs Bureau. He did it anyway. “I made it very clear: ‘I’m not here to tell you what you did or you didn’t see,’ ” Haste says he told Horne. “ ‘All I’m saying is that we all heard the same thing as far as I know. If you’re afraid of saying what you saw, you say something you believed to be a gun.’ ” Multiple people told me Horne — who declined interview requests — would continue to argue that he’d always said he “thought” he saw a gun and distance himself from Haste more than the other SNEU members. By then, Haste knew Graham hadn’t been reaching for a firearm, but he was sure the NYPD would find one in the apartment. After two days of searching, the only gun recovered was a toy replica out back.
In police parlance, Haste was a “buff,” someone for whom policing is both profession and hobby. “He was different than other officers who have been involved in these shootings,” Stuart London, Haste’s lawyer, told me in his office in February, beneath a framed copy of the Daily News’ front page the day after a grand jury declined to indict the officer — London’s client — who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold. (WE CAN’T BREATHE, reads the headline.) London met with Haste within 24 hours of the incident and was astounded by his client’s lucidity — not just a tremendous recall of what had happened but a deep knowledge of criminal-procedure law and the patrol guide. Haste took comfort in his understanding of final-frame analysis. It didn’t matter that he had violated NYPD protocol by entering Graham’s home, instead of waiting for an Emergency Services Unit trained to deal with armed suspects who are cornered, or that he hadn’t called for a warrant. He remembered the video-game-like simulator he’d trained on at the Academy. Often the targets were guys reaching into their waistbands. When Haste was slow to shoot, a sergeant was always there to yell, “You’re dead now!” “I had no more time left,” Haste later told investigators. “I felt that if I waited one more second that this person was going to draw a firearm and shoot me.”
Patricia Hartley, Graham’s grandmother, says the police version of events is a lie. According to her, there was no knock before Mcloughlin kicked open the front door and Haste charged through. She says that Haste didn’t yell any commands before firing his gun. And the next thing she saw was her grandson slumped on the floor. “Why you killed him?” she yelled.
According to a lawsuit filed by the Graham family, Hartley said that Haste pushed her while screaming, “Get the fuck away before I have to shoot you too.” (To Haste, the moments after the shooting are a blur. He doesn’t dispute that he yelled at Hartley while he and Mcloughlin cleared the apartment and admits he may have used profanity, but he denies pushing her.) The lawsuit also alleged that an officer grabbed Hartley by the neck, pushed her into a chair, and told her she would be handcuffed if she didn’t cooperate. An officer picked up a crying Chinnor, carried him downstairs, and left him on the front porch. Wearing a red T-shirt in February’s chill, Chinnor instinctively wrapped his arms around the legs of a female officer who had been holding the front door open, and continued to sob. When Ramarley’s mother, Constance Malcolm, arrived home from work, officers wouldn’t allow her near the house. That’s when she first felt the pit in her stomach. A police officer drove Malcolm to the 47th, but no one told her what had happened. It wasn’t until she overheard a detective say he’d come from “the homicide” that she feared the worst. Then she saw her mother being escorted through the station. “Little Miss!” Hartley called out, using her daughter’s nickname. “They killed Marley!” When she began to scream, Malcolm says a police officer shoved her against the wall. She says no one from the precinct ever directly told her that her son had been killed.
Meanwhile, detectives took Hartley into a room for questioning. The officers insisted that Ramarley had thrown a gun out the window and tried to get her to agree. When she refused, Hartley says they called her a “fucking liar.” Malcolm demanded a lawyer be present, but police refused to release Hartley, even after Malcolm’s lawyer arrived at the station. In the end, police held Hartley for seven hours, she says. (The NYPD said it was closer to five and a half, but pledged to investigate Hartley’s treatment.)
Following the shooting, city officials, including then–police commissioner Ray Kelly, expressed a commitment to get to the bottom of what happened. Bill de Blasio, then the city’s public advocate, issued a statement. “We need answers and we need them quickly.” But those commitments did little to comfort Graham’s family. Hartley was treated for trauma at the hospital. Ramarley’s father, Frank Graham (who separated from Malcolm soon after Ramarley’s birth but lived in Harlem and remained close to his son), also went to the hospital when his blood pressure skyrocketed. That weekend, Malcolm couldn’t see her son’s body because it had been misidentified. The morgue didn’t find it until a State Assembly member intervened.
Meanwhile, the NYPD pushed its own version of the facts to the press. On the night of the shooting, a spokesman for the department told the New York Times that the teenager had been running from police into his home, though the surveillance camera clearly showed Ramarley walking into the house, and that there had been a struggle between Graham and Haste. The next day, a law-enforcement source told The Wall Street Journal that Graham had been arrested eight times (police documents list seven arrests). None of the arrests resulted in charges.
Horne, of course, couldn’t have known about Graham’s record when he saw the teenager leave the bodega. It stretched between June 2009 and October 2011 and included arrests for robbery, trespassing, disorderly conduct, possession of a weapon, burglary, and selling marijuana. Malcolm detailed a few of the arrests to me and chalked them up to misunderstandings: Friends had accused her son of stealing headphones; police thought he’d taken someone’s bike. Nor was Graham’s record unusual for the neighborhood during the height of the “stop and frisk” era: While black and Latino men between the ages of 14 and 24 made up 4.7 percent of the city’s population, they accounted for 41.6 percent of stops in 2011.
According to a former principal at Graham’s middle school, Ramarley had sought advice from teachers on how to avoid the rougher side of the neighborhood. But in ninth grade, he dropped out and began bouncing among odd jobs. His MySpace page featured crudely rendered street-gang logos and pictures of Graham and his friends posing with what looks like weed and what appears to be a handgun. When I asked Malcolm about the pictures, she had a blunt response: “Kids do stupid things.” But in the 47th Precinct, “stupid things” are considered evidence. Supportive officers sent Haste the webpage, ex post facto proof, they believed, that Graham had warranted suspicion. Malcolm wasn’t surprised. “This is what the NYPD does to justify what they did,” she said. When asked to describe the man her son was becoming, Malcolm paused. “He was 18,” she said. “He was just coming into himself when he died.”
Three months before the shooting, Frank Graham’s twin sons, Ramarley’s half-brothers, were charged with weapons possession, and one was also charged with attempted murder and assault. The twins were eventually found guilty of operating a small gang, the Goodfellas, in Harlem. Though the twins had lived with their father in Harlem, Ramarley had been close with them. There’s no evidence that Ramarley had any involvement with the Goodfellas, but at their sentencing, the judge said there was a “sickening irony” to their case in that the twins had perpetuated the city’s culture of gun violence that had presumably informed the SNEU team’s frame of mind that day: “The acts of your conspiracy, spanning four years, including many shootings and ending just months before his death, is an unavoidable and integral part of the context in which that tragic event occurred and likely will be judged.” Ramarley, even in death, was seen as an extension of his environment.
“My first reaction was, I really hope he killed a white guy,” Haste’s ex-girlfriend Melody told me. Melody — who is Puerto Rican and dated Haste for four years before they broke up in 2014 — knew how bad it looked when a white cop shot a black man but says race had nothing to do with why he pulled the trigger — although she added that “systemic racism put both of the individuals in that situation.” The first time she met her boyfriend’s co-workers, at a Buffalo Wild Wings, Melody instinctively walked toward a table of white guys with high-and-tight haircuts, bypassing the table of black women who were actually Haste’s fellow officers. “I know people are throwing the race card out,” said one of the officers who was at that table. “We all have our biases, but that wasn’t Rich.”
Studies have shown that police officers harbor the same implicit prejudices as any other citizen. But that bias doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in an officer’s decision to pull the trigger. Joshua Correll of the University of Colorado at Boulder studied the reactions of both police officers and everyday citizens and found that civilians were three times more likely to exhibit racial bias when shooting. (Though officers who work in specialized gang units in areas with mostly minority populations were more likely to fire on unarmed black civilians, according to a small sample.) Correll’s subjects, however, used a simulator, which by his own admission can’t precisely re-create the sorts of adrenaline-pumping scenarios police encounter. “When people are out on the street, in high-pressure situations, we suspect they’re much more likely to fall back on gut reactions,” Correll told the New York Times last year. Haste admitted as much to me, saying the simulator he trained on was “like playing Duck Hunt.”
In real life, on-duty police officers rarely, if ever, pull the trigger. In 2015, the NYPD’s 36,000 officers fired their weapons a total of 67 times. Before joining the SNEU, Haste worked foot patrol and then “midnight conditions,” cruising Wakefield in an unmarked sedan in the middle of the night. Last March, Haste’s complaint record was leaked to the press. Six official complaints had been made against him: abuse during a frisking, use of physical force, use of pepper spray, and three incidents of verbal discourtesy. None of the incidents resulted in anything more than mediation. Just 7 percent of NYPD officers have received six or more complaints. But Haste argues that it would be extremely rare for a cop with 175 arrests in three years not to have complaints on his record.
Haste’s parents divorced when he was 5, and he spent most of his childhood in Pelham Bay, a white working-class neighborhood four miles southeast of Wakefield. Haste was an outsider in school, he says, but during his junior year in high school, he became an auxiliary officer with the NYPD, inspired by cultural touchstones of the ’80s and ’90s like Rambo, Top Gun, and G.I. Joe. He committed to the Marines before graduating from high school, and after two years on bases in Okinawa and California, he was honorably discharged because of an injury. He moved back to New York and was eventually accepted into the force, his dream job.
Not long after the shooting, Haste started to feel acute stress. He’d begun to be recognized in public and was receiving enough credible death threats that the NYPD installed a panic button in his home. He saw a department-appointed psychologist, but union representatives told him he couldn’t trust anybody. As Internal Affairs investigated him, his co-workers, who were also his best friends, stopped talking to him. After a brief suspension, he was assigned to the Fleet Services division in Queens, where he spent his days babysitting gas pumps. He stopped sleeping, and when he did, he saw Graham in his dreams, dead on a gurney, the scars of the medical examiner’s Y-incision on his chest.
The Bronx district attorney convened a grand jury, and on June 13, 2012, Haste’s 31st birthday, he was indicted on first- and second-degree manslaughter charges. The arraignment was the first time Constance Malcolm and Frank Graham had seen Haste in person; they wept as Haste quietly pleaded not guilty. After posting bail, he emerged from the Bronx Hall of Justice to the applause of fellow police officers, a scene that would make one City Council member wonder later to me, “Is there something about the culture of the Police Department that hardens your heart?”
Underlying that culture is an understanding that police officers who pull the trigger in the line of duty have the nearly absolute deference of the criminal-justice system. Historically, the U.S. hasn’t kept official numbers on officer-involved shootings, but it’s estimated police shoot and kill about 1,000 people a year. Philip Stinson, a former police officer and associate professor at Bowling Green State University, tracks incidents of police misconduct. According to his database, which dates back to 2005, Haste is one of only 82 on-duty officers who have shot and killed someone to be charged with murder or manslaughter. A mere 29 of those were convicted of manslaughter or a lesser charge, and just one has been convicted of murder.
In May, Sergeant Hugh Barry, who shot Deborah Danner, a mentally ill woman, in the bedroom of her Bronx apartment last year, became the first on-duty NYPD officer in 17 years to be charged with murder. In more than a decade, just one New York City police officer, Peter Liang, has been convicted of manslaughter. Liang, who accidentally killed Akai Gurley via a ricocheting bullet in a dimly lit stairwell in 2014, was sentenced to probation and community service. (The guilty charge sparked protests in the Asian-American community; many wondered why Liang was convicted when white officers, such as the four who fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo in 1999, walked.) Barry claimed Danner had a baseball bat in her hand, and, according to a Police Academy test, he’d operated within departmental guidelines. The test included a multiple-choice question that asked whether an officer was within his rights to fire at an emotionally disturbed person with a bat. The answer was yes.
Haste called the charges against Barry “disgusting,” comparing Barry’s case to his own, which he believes was influenced unduly by political activism: “It’s just the flavor of the month.” Haste felt his training wasn’t flawed, just insufficient: To drive the point home, he sent me a video produced by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s Infowars. The video featured Tim Kennedy, a retired professional mixed-martial-arts fighter and Special Forces veteran, talking about police training in response to Black Lives Matter. The problem, according to Kennedy, was a lack of understanding from the public that police were doing the best they could with the resources they had. His solution was more militaristic training for police. “They need to be on the range, they need to be in the gyms, they need to be in martial-arts studios,” Kennedy says over images of muscular men shooting assault rifles.
In May 2013, nearly a year after Haste’s arraignment, the judge who presided over the grand jury called a conference and announced that the assistant district attorney had erred when he instructed jurors not to consider Haste’s “state of mind,” including the fact that Horne had told him Graham had a gun. And so the judge threw out the initial indictment. From the second row of the courtroom, Malcolm began yelling at the judge. “He killed my child. What more can you do to me?”
Less than two months later, the Bronx district attorney convened a second grand jury, confident that, absent any major prosecutorial gaffe, he could secure a reindictment. The second grand jury, like the first, reflected the demographics of the Bronx, which, to Haste’s supporters, meant reindictment was inevitable. Haste testified for five hours. London believed his client was better prepared for his second testimony. “When they asked Officer Haste, ‘What were you thinking right before you shot the one bullet?,’ he said things like, ‘I envisioned Thanksgiving and everyone is there but me.’ ”
The grand jury declined to reindict, a decision that shocked both London and the Bronx DA’s office. Hours after the second grand jury’s decision went public, then–U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced that his office would review the case to see if Graham’s civil rights had been violated. Under Obama, the Department of Justice had aggressively pursued civil-rights investigations into police agencies that had exhibited patterns of abuse, but it rarely opened cases against individuals; more often than not, it took positions that strengthened officers’ right to use deadly force. A year passed without word from the DOJ. In August 2014, Constance Malcolm and Frank Graham delivered 33,000 signatures gathered in an online petition to the U.S. Attorney’s office demanding an indictment. On February 2, 2016, the four-year anniversary of Ramarley’s death, Malcolm and Graham, joined by some 50 activists, slept on the steps of the U.S. Attorney’s office in the bitter cold. Bharara agreed to meet with Malcolm, but, in early March, he told her that there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. To make such a case against a police officer, the prosecution must prove a “willful deprivation of rights,” an extremely high burden of proof. Later that day, Bharara issued a statement: “Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil-rights violation.”
Malcolm, who moved here from Jamaica as a 13-year-old in the mid-’80s, speaks with a slight patois and occasionally slips into the present tense when talking about the past. The effect, when she talks about Ramarley, is that Malcolm’s grief isn’t lost in translation but magnified by it. “Ramarley’s actually kind of shy,” she says. She still hasn’t figured out how to respond to people who ask how many children she has, and she still lives in the apartment where her son was killed, with Chinnor and Hartley.
The family avoids speaking about Ramarley at home, but as a leader in the movement for police reform, Malcolm has found a way to talk about her son almost daily. In the week after the shooting alone, she met with politicians, Commissioner Kelly, and activists from police-reform organizations; made an appearance at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network; and led hundreds of protesters in a march to the 47th Precinct. She’s also taken to mentoring mothers of other unarmed black men killed by police, the “little girls’ group that we didn’t ask for.” After Ramarley was killed, Malcolm, who works as a nurse’s aide, took more than a year off from her job. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic-stress disorder. Chinnor, now 11, went to therapy for a while. “I don’t know if he’ll ever be a normal kid, seeing what he saw,” Malcolm says.
I visited Malcolm at her apartment on the eve of the fifth anniversary of her son’s death. She was wearing a black long-sleeved shirt with Ramarley’s face on it. “I had all of his clothes until the end of last year,” she said as she sat down on a white leather couch in her tidy, sparsely decorated living room. “The same way he left it, that’s the same way it was.”
We talked for an hour before Malcolm calmly walked me down the hallway where Haste and Graham first encountered each other and into the “famous bathroom,” as she called it. Standing next to the bathtub, Malcolm showed me how, if Ramarley’s boot had been sticking out of the bathroom door when he died, as multiple witnesses attest, she thinks he would have been standing too far from the toilet for anyone to reasonably claim that he’d been throwing a bag of weed into the bowl. Malcolm believes that officers may have planted the weed to fortify Haste’s account.
Malcolm talks about her suspicion as an afterthought; she knows there’s no way to prove a cover-up, and even if there were, her legal recourse has all but dried up. In 2015, the city settled a civil suit with the family for $3.9 million. Malcolm calls it “blood money.” It sits in an account she says she’s never touched. After the suit was settled, with no hope of a state or federal trial, she focused on the fight to get Haste off the police force, a goal so narrow that it was mostly symbolic, as well as on getting more information about what had happened that day. She still knew shockingly little. One person had the power to address both goals: Bill de Blasio.
When de Blasio campaigned for mayor in 2013, police reform — particularly around stop and frisk — was a staple of his platform. Yet one of his first acts as mayor was to appoint as police commissioner Bill Bratton, the man who popularized stop and frisk. While Bratton had softened his stance considerably by then, police-reform advocates felt betrayed. For de Blasio, Bratton was someone who could bolster the mayor’s law-enforcement bona fides after he’d spent so much of the election criticizing the force. But de Blasio’s relationship with the department has been strained since December 2014, when a grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Eric Garner into a fatal chokehold. Following that decision, de Blasio admitted to once having told his son, Dante, “to take special care with any encounter he may have with the police.” The comment infuriated cops and, after a deranged gunman killed two patrol officers a month later, officers turned their backs to de Blasio when he spoke at one of the funerals. “That had a chastening effect on the mayor, and ever since then, his advocacy on police reform has been less impassioned,” says City Councilmember Ritchie Torres. (A spokesman for de Blasio responded by pointing to a 93 percent reduction in stop and frisk and the recent introduction of a body-camera pilot program.)
Malcolm voted for de Blasio in 2013. She remembers seeing him campaign at the church that was the site of Ramarley’s funeral. Most of all, she remembers his call, as the city’s public advocate, for a “speedy and transparent” investigation into her son’s death, words she thinks don’t remotely describe what has transpired.
In early March 2016, two days after the U.S. Attorney closed its investigation, de Blasio told reporters that departmental charges had been filed against Haste. “There will now be due process,” he assured them. But six months later, Haste met with Commissioner Bratton and his successor, then-chief-of-department James O’Neill. The officer — who had seen over $30,000 in standard raises since the shooting, bumping his pay to nearly $95,000 a year — said they offered him part of his pension if he retired. If he rejected their offer, Haste would face a departmental trial, which he would most definitely lose. Afterward, Haste said he asked London what had changed since May 2015, when the department had floated him a deal that opened a return to active duty. (The offer was quickly rescinded when the NYPD official who made it found out Haste was under federal investigation.) “[London’s] answer was simply, ‘They’re caving into political pressure from activist groups,’ ” Haste told me. Upset by the way tabloids had portrayed him, Haste wanted a chance to tell the public what he’d told the second grand jury, his final-frame analysis. He chose the trial.
Firing Haste would require some litigatory gymnastics. The NYPD needed to craft an argument that was the perfect negative of final-frame analysis, in that it would have to prove that his actions leading up to the shooting merited dismissal regardless of the consequences, as the Firearms Discharge Review Board investigation had already cleared Haste for pulling the trigger. O’Neill himself had signed off on the report. In the case of Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot Tamir Rice, the Cleveland Police Department had a definite, fireable offense — Loehmann had lied on his job application. For Haste, the NYPD chose “poor tactical judgment,” a catchall charge they could apply to any number of the choices Haste made that day. (The NYPD maintains Haste was given the same due process as any other officer and that his case was carried out according to departmental guidelines.)
The departmental trial was held over five days at police headquarters late this past January, during which both the defense and prosecution picked apart everything the SNEU did wrong that day: Haste didn’t have the 20 hours of classroom training required of all SNEU members; there weren’t enough officers on duty; Haste should have been in uniform. But the heart of the department’s argument against its own officer was based on the moment Graham entered his home, which transformed Haste’s pursuit into a “barricaded job,” at which point an officer is required to call for an Emergency Services Unit. Instead, Haste chose to enter the home of a possibly armed suspect without calling for backup. Taken together, those actions, the department charged, constituted “poor tactical judgment.” The head of the Police Academy’s specialized training said that he’d never seen such egregious tactical violations. Meanwhile, Mcloughlin and Morris testified on Haste’s behalf. Morris, the team leader, backed up Haste, saying he trusted him to make the right decisions. (The NYPD asserts that blame should also be placed on Morris for failing to control his team; both he and Mcloughlin will face their own departmental trials.)
On March 24, a Friday, Haste was told that the judge had recommended dismissal, and O’Neill planned on following through with her recommendation. That Sunday, Haste submitted his resignation. He expected to cry. Instead, he felt empowered, he said. He wouldn’t let de Blasio put his head on a spike.
Last year, Haste graduated from Pace with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in criminal justice, and he has applied to jobs at federal and local law-enforcement agencies; a few have called him back. He believes Malcolm has every right to be angry and always felt that she deserved an open investigation, one in which he was free to answer any questions she had for him. But he stands by his final-frame analysis — even if the department that trained him, that shaped his worldview in the course of that training, has forsaken him. Haste still thinks pulling the trigger was the right thing to do. Ramarley Graham no longer shows up in his dreams.
In February, London told me about a recent client of his, an officer who had grabbed a suspect by the dreadlocks with one hand while holding a gun in the other. The gun accidentally went off, killing the suspect. London did so to highlight the brittle standards of the NYPD’s charge of “bad tactics” and to prove that Haste’s case had come down to “politics.” “If you want to talk about bad tactics, grabbing a guy from his hair in one hand and having a gun in the other is clearly bad tactics … And yet, since it wasn’t high profile, since you didn’t have the City Council, since you didn’t have the mayor, since you didn’t have such a public outcry over it, it went as an accidental discharge, and he was given a penalty and moved on with his career and no one heard about the case.” That case, London said, was the rule rather than the exception. This spring, in the span of less than a month alone, three unarmed black teenagers were shot and killed by law-enforcement officers across the country. Police departments walked back initial statements about what they’d said had happened in two of those incidents, and key details are being disputed in the third.
The day after Haste resigned, Malcolm held a press conference outside police headquarters in downtown Manhattan. She stepped up to the microphone wearing a gray scarf and a white T-shirt that said WHERE IS MY JUSTICE? above a picture of Ramarley’s face. She had gotten some version of the accountability she had sought — after all, Haste was off the force, disgraced, and there was a credible argument to be made that it was Malcolm’s own activism that forced the issue. Yet the closure she imagined a resolution would bring seems, if anything, farther away than ever. Federal suits against the officers who killed Garner and Rice are now being handled by a Justice Department that has already moved to cut back the Obama administration’s police-reform initiatives. Still, Malcolm needs to believe that her son’s life force didn’t stop when and where that hollow-point bullet did. “This was the perfect case to show us that our young men and women matter,” she said, looking out at the crowd. “Ramarley’s life matters.”
*This article appears in the June 12, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.