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Denied justice, Michael Lembhard family perseveres

OULIMATA BA Special to the AmNews | 7/19/2012, 4:47 p.m.
Denied justice, Michael Lembhard family perseveres

No charges will be brought against the two Newburgh police officers responsible for the death of 22-year-old Michael Lembhard. Lembhard's family received the grim news last week.

"We're just sitting here, we can't believe it," said Juanita King, Lembhard's cousin.

The news is the result of an Orange County grand jury investigation into the circumstances of Lembhard's death in March. Several of Lembhard's family members testified, saying the Newburgh police lied in their reports and accounts of the night Lembhard was shot.

King said no one from the Orange County district attorney's office notified the family about the grand jury decision.

"They didn't even call to let [Lembhard's] mother know," she said. King found out about the decision when she got a call from a Newburgh City Council member. "If I didn't call my family and let them know, they would have heard it on the news," King said.

The Newburgh City Council issued a statement when the decision was released.

"The Council of the City of Newburgh acknowledges the difficulty of the Orange County grand jury's deliberations regarding the shooting of Michael Lembhard," the statement said. "The City Council will be considering whether additional investigation of this case should be pursued."

Lembhard's mother said she thought the grand jury would indict the officers who killed her son. "I was upset," she said, adding that she normally doesn't grant interviews to reporters. "I was very upset."

The Lembhard family met with their attorney the same day the verdict was given. The family will file a civil suit for what they say is an unjustifiable homicide by the Newburgh police.

Lembhard's family is also campaigning to make sure the officers involved are not back on duty. "We're trying to get the word out," said Edith King, Lembhard's aunt. "It's only a matter of time before they're back on the streets and we don't want that."

Newburgh police did not get back to the Amsterdam News for a comment about the grand jury's decision.

The night he died, Lembhard was sitting outside his sister's house with friends when four police officers drove up.

King said Lembhard's girlfriend had a domestic violence warrant filed against him and he was afraid to show up to his required court date, concerned he would not have the bail money if he got arrested, King said.

Lembhard stepped inside his sister's house to avoid the police. He locked the door behind him. Police then pursued him inside the house, kicking down the door. The noise woke up Lembhard's sister Cherry, who was asleep upstairs.

"I heard him say, 'Cherry come help me,' and then shots," Cherry Lembhard said.

Police said Lembhard approached them with a knife he picked up in the kitchen. Two of the officers fired their weapons, shooting Lembhard 15 times.

Lembhard would have been 23 next month. "We're lighting one candle a night until his birthday on August 27 to represent the 15 times he's been shot," King said.

The Lembhard family will also hold a memorial service on that day.

"We are committed to aggressively ensuring that a tragedy of this nature does not happen again," stated the City Council. However, the Lembhard family isn't so sure it won't happen again. King said she wants to set up a memorial fund in Lembhard's name for the next family this happens to. "I want the memory of Michael to help the next family," she said. "If the officers weren't indicted, this will happen."