As the sun beat down on the Saturday afternoon of July 7, a group of about 90 marchers made their way down Church Avenue in East Flatbush toward the 67th Precinct headquarters. “No justice, no peace,” they loudly chanted. “No racist police.”
The men, women and children wore T-shirts decorated with photos of Shantel Davis, a young woman shot and killed by a 67th Precinct officer less than a month earlier, on June 14. Due to the intense heat, many marchers fanned themselves with the small picket signs they carried. “WANTED FOR RACIST MURDER,” the signs read, accompanied by the images of three men — George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman accused in Trayvon Martin’s death; New York Police Department officer Richard Haste, who is at the center of a controversial shooting of a Bronx suspect; and Narcotics Detective Phillip Atkins, who was involved in the Davis incident.
Atkins, known around the neighborhood as “Bad Boy,” was the officer who shot Davis. During his career, he has often faced allegations of having used excessive force. That history, combined with the fact that the N.Y.P.D. has not yet met with East Flatbush’s community leaders to discuss improving police-community relations, has led to a series of weekly protest marches every Saturday since June 16.
According to authorities, as reported by the New York Times, early on the evening of June 14, 23-year-old Shantel Davis sped down Church Avenue, ran several red lights and crashed into a van. She was being pursued by two plainclothes narcotics detectives, 27-year-old Daniel Guida and 44-year-old Atkins.
After the crash, Davis moved from the driver’s side of the car to the passenger’s side. She pushed the car door open, knocking over Guida, who was standing just outside the car. Then she returned to the driver’s side, where Atkins was located. Atkins opened the driver’s side door, gun drawn, and during the ensuing scuffle as Davis tried to throw the car in reverse, he shot her once in the chest.
A wounded Davis stumbled out of the car at the command of the officers. She fell down and lay in a pool of blood, while a bystander, who had come to her side, comforted her until an ambulance arrived. She was pronounced dead at Kings County Hospital Center.
“It’s an important case of wrongful death,” said Sanford Rubenstein, the lawyer for the Davis family. He arrived at the June 23 protest march — along with the Davis family, City Council member Jumaane Williams, and Kirsten John Foy, a former aide to the Reverend Al Sharpton and current aide to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio — following a funeral service for Davis at the Tabernacle of Praise church in East Flatbush.
The march, which had a more somber tone than that of July 7, began with a prayer led by Bishop Orlando Findlayter, who had presided over the service at the Tabernacle of Praise. Next, the crowd walked in silence down 38th Street to Snyder and Nostrand avenues. A mother marching in front of Rubenstein held her younger son’s hand, while singing “Amazing Grace.”
The emotional impact of Davis’s death derives partly from its timing. June 13, the day before she was killed, marked the 13th anniversary of the fatal shooting of Guinean immigrant and street peddler Amadou Diallo by four N.Y.P.D. officers. Diallo was unarmed when he was shot 41 times in 1999. Police had approached him because he fit the description of a man wanted in a rape case.
Also on June 13, 2012, officer Richard Haste was indicted and entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of manslaughter in the case of Ramarley Graham. Graham, an 18-year-old boy, had been shot and killed in his Bronx apartment in February 2012, after officers chased him into his home during a drug bust. Graham was unarmed. The indictment of Haste was the first instance since the fatal shooting of Sean Bell in 2006 when an officer has been criminally charged for an on-duty shooting.
In the case of Bell, he and his friends were shot at 50 times by N.Y.P.D. officers as they left a bachelor party at a strip club in Queens. The officers, outside the club making arrests for prostitution, believed Bell and his friends were armed and opened fire after Bell drove his car in their direction. Bell died; two of his friends were wounded. Rubenstein, a personal-injury attorney in New York who was the Bell family’s lawyer, now represents the family of Shantel Davis.
Davis had been due to appear in court on June 15 on charges of attempted murder and possession of a loaded weapon. Published reports in the New York Daily News and The New York Times stated that the Toyota Camry she was driving was stolen and had been obtained in a carjacking on June 5.
“If this was a car theft, the penalty is not death and the police don’t get to be judge, jury and executioner,” Rubenstein said. According to New York State law, the maximum sentencing for grand larceny, a class E felony, is four years.
Detective Atkins is now on paid administrative leave, the standard personnel action after a shooting. He has had six civil lawsuits filed against him in federal court for the Eastern District of New York during his career. According to court records, the claims filed against Atkins and fellow N.Y.P.D. officers include the use of excessive force and performing illegal strip searches during arrests.
In many of those cases, the N.Y.P.D. was also accused of negligence in training, supervising, and disciplining Atkins and other officers. Most of the cases ended in settlements, with the largest payout of $140,00 in a case filed by Gillian Brown in 2009. Some of the cases are still pending.
An investigation into the June 14 incident, to determine if Detective Atkins’s gun discharged accidentally, is currently being conducted by the N.Y.P.D. The N.Y.P.D. declined several opportunities to comment on the incident and subsequent investigation.
“To my dismay, neither the mayor nor the commissioner, have visited this community,” stated City Council member Williams.
Following the June 14 incident, Williams and Bishop Findlayter, along with other community leaders, wrote a letter to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. They requested a meeting with him to talk about reducing violence in East Flatbush and making relations between the police and the community better.
“We’re out here doing what we can to help and be part of the solution,” said Reverend Terry M. Lee, founder of East Flatbush’s By-Ways and Hedges Youth for Christ Ministry, Inc at the June 23 march, “That’s what we’re doing now with these vigils.”
On June 16, City Council member Williams vowed that the members of the community would be out marching and holding vigils until the N.Y.P.D. police commissioner or the mayor addressed the people of East Flatbush.
After a communication from the N.Y.P.D., which said it would meet with Williams, Findlayter and other community leaders, it seemed like the June 30 march would be the last. However, as Findlayter explained to the boisterous July 7 crowd, the N.Y.P.D. had gone back on its commitment to meet with him and other community leaders. The N.Y.P.D., via a phone call a day earlier, had said that it was confused as to the purpose of such a meeting. It requested that Findlayter and his fellow community leaders write a second letter better outlining the purpose of a meeting.
Williams confirmed that a second letter was sent. A spokesman for the N.Y.P.D. refused to comment as to why the second request was necessary.
The investigation into Atkins’s actions continues. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office is not currently investigating the incident. Rubenstein has an investigator interviewing witnesses. No lawsuit has been filed yet. And, until the N.Y.P.D. commissioner and mayor respond to East Flatbush’s community leaders and citizens, both say they will be out on the streets.