#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Timothy Stansbury?

A 19-year-old high school student who intended to take a rooftop shortcut to a birthday party was shot and killed by a police officer early yesterday at the top of a dark stairwell leading to the roof of a Brooklyn housing project. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said the shooting appeared to be unjustified.

In a confrontation in which coincidence and surprise apparently played tragic roles, officials said the victim, Timothy Stansbury Jr., who was walking up the narrow interior stairs ahead of two friends, and one of two officers on the roof simultaneously grabbed the handles of a door atop a four-story building at 385 Lexington Avenue, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, about 1:30 a.m.

As the door swung open, one of the uniformed officers, who were patrolling in the dark with drawn guns, fired a single shot that struck Mr. Stansbury in the chest. He staggered backward and, as his friends ran, he descended, bleeding, down five flights of stairs to the ground floor, where he collapsed, the police said.

The police summoned an ambulance, and Mr. Stansbury, who lived next door at 395 Lexington Avenue, was taken to Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, where he was pronounced dead. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other city officials visited the victim’s family later to offer condolences and were jeered by crowds as they left.

It was the first fatal shooting of an unarmed civilian by a police officer in New York City since last May, when Ousmane Zongo, 35, an immigrant from Burkina Faso, was shot dead by an officer in a chase through the mazelike halls of a mini-storage center in Chelsea.

Commissioner Kelly, who visited the scene, said at an afternoon news conference that the officer who fired the fatal shot had not spoken to investigators, though his partner had done so, and that a preliminary inquiry suggested that the shooting was unjustified.

”At this point, based on the facts we have gathered, there appears to be no justification for the shooting,” the commissioner said. ”This is a tragic incident that compels us to take an in-depth look at our tactics and training, both for new and veteran officers.”

The identities of both officers were withheld, in accordance with police policy, Mr. Kelly said. But someone who had been briefed on the incident identified the officer who fired the shot as Richard Neri.

Mr. Kelly said the officer who fired the shot, an 11-year police veteran, was relieved of duty and his gun and badge were taken, pending further investigation. The second officer, a four-year veteran, was placed on administrative duty, Mr. Kelly said.

At the request of the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, Mr. Kelly said the police would not immediately seek to question the officer who fired the shot. This is a standard practice that accords an officer the same right as any citizen to remain silent and preserves the state’s latitude to prosecute, if an investigation indicates that charges are warranted.

According to a law enforcement source, the officer had not been involved in any other shootings and had not been the subject of any disciplinary proceedings.

Mr. Kelly said that it was not unusual for officers to patrol rooftops with guns drawn. He said that the victim and the officer were standing three to four feet apart, and that Mr. Stansbury was apparently pushing the door open as one of the officers was pulling it from the other side.

Family members, friends and neighbors of Mr. Stansbury described the shooting as an act of wanton recklessness by officers who had asked no questions, failed to identify themselves and fired without warning.

They noted that the victim was unarmed, carrying only compact discs for the party. And they described him as a respectful, hard-working youth who was a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, had a job at a McDonald’s and had never been in trouble with the law.

”This was a cold-blooded killing,” said City Councilman Charles Barron, a Brooklyn Democrat who announced last week that he intended to run for mayor next year. If eyewitness accounts are accurate, he said, ”heads should roll.”

Lt. Eric Adams, the head of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, said his organization would give the victim’s family legal help, and he demanded ”an investigation that goes further than this shooting on this roof.” He said the policy of allowing officers to patrol with drawn weapons should be reviewed.

The victim’s father, Timothy Stansbury Sr., 45, said his family was crushed and bewildered. Referring to the officers, he said, ”They didn’t ask any questions, no ‘freeze,’ or ‘Who are you?’ It doesn’t make any sense. It’s no justice at all. They don’t ask no questions, they just shoot.”

The father charged that, after the shooting, the police dragged his son down five flights of stairs — a version that contradicted the police account and that of a young man who was with the victim on the stairs.

”They are treating us like dogs,” the victim’s mother, Phyllis Clayburne, a school crossing guard, said. ”It’s ridiculous. We are people. This has got to stop. We can’t do what we want. We can’t even live in our own neighborhood. They can’t just come around and shoot people for no reason.”

The shooting took place atop a row of four-story buildings that share a single roof, part of the Louis Armstrong Houses on Lexington Avenue between Marcy and Tompkins Avenues. The roofs are off-limits under Housing Authority regulations intended to prevent crime.

But the doors to the roofs are left unlocked as fire-escape routes, and residents said they use them as shortcuts rather than descending to the street.

Mr. Stansbury was one of 25 people who attended a birthday party for a teenage neighbor Friday night in a fourth-floor flat at 395 Lexington Avenue. The host, who gave her name only as Ms. James, said the party was a noisy, no-drugs affair of hip-hop music and dancing. Just before 1:30 a.m. yesterday, Mr. Stansbury and Tarrence Fisher, 19, who was the D.J., went next door to Mr. Fisher’s apartment at 385 Lexington to get more music.

They crossed the roof, picked up the CD’s and a friend in the building, Shawn Rhames, 23, and climbed the stairs to the roof to return to the party, Commissioner Kelly said. They were in single file, with Mr. Stansbury in front.

Meanwhile, the commissioner said, the two officers had climbed to the roof at 280 Tompkins Avenue and had inspected stairway landings at 415, 405 and 395 Lexington Avenue, following procedure in which one officer opened the door and the other looked inside. In each case, they found nothing.

*Originally published on the NY Times.

Want to Reply? I'm listening....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s