The family of 37-year-old Delrawn Small gathered outside Brooklyn Supreme Court on Tuesday, demanding justice on the first day of pre-trial hearings for NYPD Officer Wayne Isaacs, charged with fatally shooting the father of three after an alleged road rage incident in East New York last July 4th. Isaacs, who sat quietly in court in a dark blazer and khakis, is the first police officer to be charged by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in his role as Special Prosecutor in police-killing cases.
Isaacs was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter last September, after being stripped of his gun and badge. Today's witness testimony, from a police officer, a lieutenant, and an EMT who responded to the scene, seemed to support initial police statements that Isaacs reported being punched through his open car window before shooting Small three times. But Small's family pointed Tuesday to surveillance footage that appears to show Small falling back moments after approaching Isaacs's car.
"The video, thankfully, it does exist. That speaks for itself and that speaks volumes," said Small's sister Victoria Davis.
"The tapes show something different," added Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. "So the honorable thing for Wayne Isaacs to do would be to confess to his crimes, to say that he is guilty, and throw himself on the mercy of the court."
Small was in a car with his girlfriend and two young children on the night of July 4th, 2016, as Isaacs drove home from his shift at the 79th Precinct. In an incident of apparent road rage, Small exited his vehicle and approached Isaac, who was seated in the driver's seat when he shot Small.
Tuesday's hearing was for the judge to determine whether statements Isaacs made immediately after the shooting, including "he punched me," were made freely and can be entered into the trial as evidence. Assistant Attorney General Joshua Gradinger asked witnesses if they pressured Isaacs to make certain statements in the aftermath of the shooting, and all three denied doing so.
"I went over to him [Isaacs] and he said that he was assaulted, punched in the face, and was complaining of pain to his lip," said Officer John Zielin of the 75th Precinct (though, when asked if he saw any facial injuries, he said he did not).
Zielin told Gradinger that he didn't know if Isaac had been hit multiple times. But when defense attorney Michael Martinez asked Zeilin during cross examination, "You heard him say, 'He kept hitting me, my lip, my lip?'" Zielin replied, "Correct."
FDNY EMT Ebony McBride said on the stand that she observed Isaac with a swollen lip. "I placed an ice pack on his right jaw. I saw swelling to his right jaw," she said.
Small's brother and sister speak outside Brooklyn Supreme Court on Tuesday. (Emma Whitford / Gothamist)
Gradinger told the Daily News earlier this week that the defense called Tuesday's hearing in an attempt to keep some of Isaacs's incongruous statements out of the trial. Defense Attorney Stephen Worth denied this on Tuesday.
"The officer did everything professionally in the way he's supposed to," Worth told reporters outside the courtroom. "He didn't run, he didn't leave, he clearly had an injury. All of the statements introduced today are helpful to our case and we're glad to hear them."
Worth added that he does not believe the surveillance footage disputes Isaacs's account. "It's an editorial question about whether it casts doubt," he said. "In my mind it doesn't cast any doubt."
Victor Dempsey, Small's younger brother, said Tuesday that his brother's death has taken a toll on Small's three children: 18-year-old Sha-riah, 16-year-old Shondell, and the youngest, 1-year-old Zaiden.
"Our lives have changed dramatically," Dempsey said. "My nieces are working at a young age, and having them call out of work to be here—it's not like they are calling out to go to the beach or be with their friends. They're being forced to be adults really quickly. That's not the kind of life you want for your children."
"If any of us had done what Isaacs did, we would have been handcuffed that night on the scene," Dempsey predicted. "We would not have been met with camaraderie. We would have been put in jail by his officers.... We need him to be sentenced to do prison time and a hefty amount of it."
All three witnesses testified on Tuesday that Isaacs was not handcuffed the night of the killing.
Judge Alexander Jeong adjourned Tuesday's hearing to September 13th for a final witness to testify. A trial will be scheduled for early October.