Black leaders expressed frustration yesterday after a grand jury voted not to indict Officer Andrew Dunton in the fatal "friendly fire" shooting of fellow Officer Omar Edwards one rainy night in Harlem at the end of May. The Black Law Enforcement Alliance called the decision "disturbingly predictable," and demanded that investigations of police shootings be independent of the Police Department and the district attorney’s office: "The relationship between the police and the local prosecutors is incestuous and threatens public confidence in the integrity of the process."
At a press conference yesterday, The Rev. Al Sharpton said the decision was expected, as grand juries rarely indict officers in friendly fire shootings. Appearing with Edwards's mother, Natalia Harding, Sharpton renewed calls for a special prosecutor to investigate the shooting. And Rep. Charles Rangel told the Daily News, "The grand jury's finding that Officer Dunton had not committed a crime did not mean that race was not a contributing factor in Officer Edwards' death."
Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the NYCLU, told the Times that according to police statistics more than 90 percent of those shot at by NYPD are black or Latino. But the president of the NYPD detective's union, Michael Palladino, says that in this case, the grand jury was right: "The case is similar to Sean Bell: tragic, but not criminal." And Edwards's father told reporters outside his home yesterday, "If they feel they’re not supposed to indict him, what am I going to say? There’s nothing I say or do that can stop the situation. That was my son’s job, he knew his life was always on the line when he was on the street."
In announcing the decision yesterday, Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau released an official time line of events on the night of the shooting. The account maintains that Edwards, who was not in uniform as he chased a thief with his gun drawn, was ordered to stop by Officer Dunton, who identified himself as NYPD. According to Morgenthau, Edwards "slowed but did not come to a complete stop. In response to Officer Dunton’s commands, Edwards turned his body toward the anticrime officers, making eye contact with Officer Dunton and pointing his gun at him. Officer Dunton fired six shots in very rapid succession." NYPD spokesman Paul Browne says the department is considering a new carrying case that an officer could wear around his or her neck so the shield would be more visible.