Credit: Bill Moore

Wednesday, April 12, the family of Ramarley Graham and several supporting organizations announced the filing of a lawsuit against the NYPD for refusing to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Law on what would have been Graham’s 24th birthday. The parties had submitted a FOIL request in September 2016 for records pertaining to the killing of Graham and the related misconduct by multiple officers involved in his killing and its aftermath. The NYPD has been refusing to fully comply with the legal request, a request that can provide his family and the public with essential information on Graham’s killing and NYPD misconduct. The move begins another legal battle against the de Blasio administration regarding its compliance with the state’s open records law.

“My son should be celebrating his 24th birthday today, but instead my family is being forced to continue fighting for justice because the de Blasio administration has shown no real commitment to justice for him and Black lives like his,” said Constance Malcolm, the mother of Graham. “With this lawsuit, we are demanding that the de Blasio administration and NYPD stop hiding the truth of what happened to my son and release the names and files related to the many officers who were responsible for misconduct. For over five years, it seems there has been a continued effort by the NYPD to cover up what really happened to my son and protect the officers involved from accountability.”

Gideon Oliver, the civil rights attorney who filed the initial FOIL requests and is filing the lawsuit on behalf of the family and supporters stated, “Filing this lawsuit today is just one step in challenging the NYPD’s political decision to continue to keep Mr. Graham’s family and community supporters in the dark about the vast majority of the facts and circumstances around Ramarley’s killing and related NYPD misconduct by refusing to comply meaningfully with the New York Freedom of Information Law and related laws. We hope the NYPD will reconsider its position and release the records sought. Otherwise, we intend to move the case forward quickly.”

The family and their supporters also demanded accountability from de Blasio. They demanded the firing of the two other officers charged in Graham’s killing, Sergeant Scott Morris and officer John McLoughlin, not allowing them to retire like Richard Haste. Morris was the ranking officer on the scene at Graham’s home when he was killed and failed to intervene or prevent the unlawful entry, killing or other misconduct from occurring. McLoughlin was responsible for kicking down the door to the family’s apartment, precipitating Haste entering, shooting and killing Graham. After more than five years while these officers have accrued pay increases, no departmental trials were scheduled despite their being charged by the NYPD in 2012. Graham’s family and community supporters also called for the several other officers who engaged in misconduct related to Graham’s killing to face departmental charges and be fired.

“My family and I want closure and justice for our communities with accountability for all of the officers responsible for misconduct, but the de Blasio administration keeps on doing what’s in its political interest instead of what they know is right,” Malcolm continued. “The officers who engaged in the killing of my son and misconduct related to it need to be fired. The NYPD must announce the start dates for trials into Sergeant Scott Morris and officer John McLoughlin, who have already been charged, and bring disciplinary charges against all other officers responsible. We need accountability and transparency—release all of the information and release it now.”

There were multiple officers engaged in misconduct and abuses of Graham’s family and other civilians related to his killing. Misconduct and abuses included the unlawful entry into the family’s home, threatening, assaulting and mistreating Graham’s family members and other civilians after the killing, unlawfully leaking information unauthorized for public release and disseminating false information about the incident. In fact, several documents of the limited ones released by the NYPD in response to the FOIL request are official NYPD reports that include inaccurate accounts of what happened, appearing to indicate attempts to cover-up Graham’s killing. An NYPD “Unusual Occurrence Report” related to the killing described the shooting as preceded by “a struggle” between the officer and Graham. That report seems to be a source of the then-Commissioner Kelly and Paul Browne’s inaccurate claims that there was a struggle between Haste and Graham before the shooting, something they later walked back. The official NYPD report was transmitted to several high-ranking officials including current Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce and Chief of Department Carlos Gomez, who were at the time in positions in the Bronx.

Graham’s family was forced to utilize the Freedom of Information Law to require the de Blasio administration to release information and records because previous attempts to convey the extent of misconduct and seek information had gone unanswered. The family delivered two letters directly to City Hall making such demands (goo.gl/mzaUXx) and outlining the extent of misconduct (goo.gl/AmIBnj), but the de Blasio administration failed to provide any response or substantive information. The family’s attorney also sent a letter (bit.ly/2hAuaHY), which similarly received no response.

The lack of transparency and accountability has left the family with questions that only continue to grow about the incident and role of an extensive number of NYPD officers and officials. The FOIL request seeks records and reports on the activities of NYPD officers and officials leading up to, during and after Graham’s killing, as well as other information.

The original FOIL request, filed Sept. 29, 2016, by Oliver on behalf of Graham’s family, Communities United for Police Reform and the Justice Committee can be accessed here: goo.gl/psjasI.

The parties appealed the NYPD’s denial to the initial request, which can be accessed here: bit.ly/RamarleyFOILappeal. The NYPD released a limited number of documents, hardly a substantive response to the extensive request made by the family and organizations.

The lawsuit comes weeks after the NYPD allowed Richard Haste to resign instead of firing him. The department has not scheduled trials for two other officers facing charges in the killing of Graham or released information on other officers involved in related misconduct.

Council Member Andy King, who supported the family of Graham before becoming a council member and has been at every hearing and court date involving the case, said, “We are very clear on this. We want Sgt. Morris and officer McLoughlin fired. We don’t want them on some kind of paid administrative leave. We don’t want them to have the opportunity to resign. We want them fired. The fact that an unarmed teenager was shot and killed in his home following a series of unjustifiable actions by the officers on the scene calls for these officers to be fired. And, we are demanding that all NYPD files related to this case as well as the Haste trial report be made public. NYPD, show us that you have nothing to hide and immediately release the files.”

Unarmed 18-year-old Graham was shot and killed in front of his grandmother and 6-year-old brother by Haste more than five years ago. Haste and several other NYPD officers burst into the family’s Bronx home without a warrant, killed Graham and engaged in misconduct and abuses of his family and other civilians. Yet after more than five years, none of the officers responsible for killing Graham and abusing his family have been meaningfully held accountable by the de Blasio administration.

“Just like in the killing of my son, there were multiple officers involved in Ramarley Graham’s killing who have yet to be held accountable, including those who filed false reports about what happened to cover up the truth,” said Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner. “It’s been over five years since Ramarley was killed and he should be enjoying his 24th birthday. Instead, the failure by the de Blasio to ensure accountability for all of the misconduct related to police killings of our children is allowing the injustice to continue.”