It was surreal. Like a scene from a movie or TV drama. Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, when they slapped the handcuffs on officer Wayne Isaacs, the family of his slain victim, Delrawn Small, gasped and cheered at the same time. Warnings from bulletproof-vested Brooklyn Supreme Court officers were not followed, as the family broke into applause. When Isaacs was remanded and led away, Small’s family members broke down in tears, relieved, surprised and anticipating some form of justice, they said.
“That felt good, but I know we’ve got a long road ahead of us,” Victor Dempsey, the victim’s brother told the Amsterdam News. “All [Isaacs] did was go to jail is what he should have done the first day it happened. But now that he’s in cuffs, I see that the attorney general is doing what he has to do to find [justice] for our family—and the city.”
In the wake of police killings of Black civilians around the country and in New York City in particular, including Eric Garner and Akai Gurley, this year Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to act as independent special prosecutor in police-involved shootings and in fatal encounters.
Dempsey said that although he and the family are happy that Isaacs has been indicted, arraigned and, for now, remanded in the case, he stated, “It’s not even a victory yet. This is just a step in the right [direction]. I’m gonna be watching [the attorney general] until it’s done.”
“In of July 2015, my office was appointed as special prosecutor in cases where an unarmed civilian dies during an encounter with police, and in cases where there is a significant question as to whether the civilian was armed and dangerous,” stated Schneiderman Tuesday. “Pursuant to that authority, July 4 of this year, my Special Investigation and Prosecutions Unit launched an investigation into the death of Delrawn Small. We conducted a thorough investigation and, as I have always pledged, followed the facts where they led, without fear or favor. After a thorough investigation, we concluded that the evidence warranted a presentation to a grand jury. [Monday], that grand jury voted and returned an indictment of NYPD officer Wayne Isaacs on charges of murder in the second degree and manslaughter in the first degree. Pursuant to that indictment, Mr. Isaacs was taken into custody this morning and arraigned today in Brooklyn Supreme Court. My office takes the prosecution of this matter very seriously, and intends to prove the alleged charges against Mr. Isaacs beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. At today’s arraignment, the judge granted our office’s request for bail at $500,000, along with the requirement that Mr. Isaacs surrender his passport and firearms, restrict his travel and wear an ankle bracelet to be monitored by the court.”
“I am going to fight until we get justice for my husband,” Wenona Small said. “I want officer Wayne Isaacs to spend the rest of his life in jail, and I will be at every court proceeding and hearing until there’s justice for my husband.”
The victim and the perpetrator are the same age, 37.
“This is just an indictment,” Assemblyman Charles Barron said outside the court. “We have been here before. We have to make sure that Attorney General Schneiderman does not do what did what Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson did in the Peter Liang case, where the police officer was convicted of the manslaughter of Akai Gurley, and at sentencing Thompson recommended no jail time. That decision was a tremendous injustice. We want a conviction and jail time in this case against officer Isaacs for killing Delrawn Small. There is overwhelming evidence in this case to support a conviction and jail time. But in the same vein, that we are calling for this Black officer, who intentionally pulled out his gun and shot this unarmed man, we are demanding that they arrest and indict white officers, too, who kill Black people without any form of accountability.”
Barron, who sat with Small’s relatives in court, noted how Judge Alexander Jeong “agreed with the people that Isaacs [with two passports—Guyanese and U.S.] was a flight risk and refused to reduce his bail of $500,000 or $350,000 cash, and said that he has to wear an ankle bracelet and pay for it himself.”
Barron continued, “Seeing that officer handcuffed in court brought some emotional relief and satisfaction to the family, but we are aware that we must remain completely vigilant, and apply appropriate pressure to the attorney general’s office as the months go by to ensure that the pursuit of real justice in this case is maintained.”
Meanwhile, in the back of the court opposite the family sat three men in Police Benevolent Association union windbreakers. They made no comment.
In the early morning of July 4 this year, Isaacs allegedly cut off Small as they drove on Atlantic Avenue in East New York. When they got to a red light at Bradford Street, Small got out of his vehicle and approached Isaacs’ car. The cop, who had just ended his afternoon to midnight tour, shot Small in front of his girlfriend and his two children.
Isaacs had claimed that he shot Small in self-defense, saying that Small had punched him. But, a security camera video shows Small being shot immediately on approaching Isaacs’ car.
Although Isaacs’ lawyer, Stuart Worth, argued in court that the video proves his client’s case, there does not seem to be any physical contact between the victim and the officer. Small can be seen staggering and bumping into cars as he recoils from the shooting.
Worth told the press, “Police officers are entitled to defend themselves. … We now know that Mr. Small did not have a weapon. Officer Isaacs didn’t have that luxury at that time.”
The Amsterdam News asked Worth outside the courtroom Tuesday if he could see his client being hit by Small.
“Yes, I have seen the video repeatedly,” Worth answered. “… immediately the officer said ‘My lip, my lip … I was assaulted.’ He went to the hospital and was treated immediately. So yes, I am saying that.”
The Amsterdam News asked if that required deadly force.
Worth replied, “I’ve just made my statement as to why it required deadly force.”
Isaacs, of the 79th Precinct in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, has three years on the job. He had been previously accused of kicking and punching a suspect in a 2014 lawsuit.
Isaacs is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter. The murder charge carries a 25 years to life sentence. The next big decision in the case is whether this case will be a bench (judge) or jury trial. There’s a date for motions Nov. 22, but the next significant court date in this trial is expected to be within the next six months.
Unable to make bail, Isaacs, who the NYPD informed the Amsterdam News is currently “suspended without pay,” is being held in protective custody on Rikers Island at press time.