What began as a mission of mercy at a public housing project in White Plains ended with police killing the very man they had been dispatched to help.
By the time the rapidly escalating conflict was over, police had zapped a 68-year-old former Marine and correction officer with a stun gun, shot him with a beanbag gun and blasted him twice in the chest. The chronically ill Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.
died at White Plains Hospital shortly after the early-morning clash on Nov. 19.
Only now, more than four months after the fact, have authorities finally agreed to convene a grand jury to determine if the cops committed a crime.
Like 17-year-old Trayvon Martin
, Chamberlain was African-American, and his death has added fuel to the growing national debate that has flared since the Florida teen was killed on Feb. 26.
As in Florida, the White Plains incident received little press attention for weeks and authorities resisted a grand jury probe.
Since then, accounts have surfaced that at least one officer was heard on a tape hurling racial epithets and taunts in the moments before cops removed Chamberlain’s apartment door from its hinges and burst inside.
During the past several days, nearly 200,000 people have signed an online petition demanding justice in Chamberlain’s case. White Plains Mayor Tom Roach
on Friday issued his first public statement of condolences to the dead man’s family.
That’s a far different atmosphere and tone than in November.
But as the weeks passed, the official story became riddled with holes.
To begin with, the police who arrived at Chamberlain’s apartment in the Winbrook Houses about 5 a.m. were not responding to a disturbance or a crime in progress.
They were supposed to be there to help the man.
Chamberlain, who lived alone, suffered from a chronic heart condition and wore a pendant to signal LifeAid, a medical alert company, in case of trouble.
That morning, the company called police after the pendant went off and Chamberlain failed to respond to a two-way audiobox installed in his apartment. He appears to have accidentally set off the device while he was sleeping.
A LifeAid employee then requested that a squad car go by the house to check on him.
When police arrived, they started banging on his door. Chamberlain yelled out to them that he was all right, that they weren’t needed.
The dead man’s son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., and a pair of lawyers said LifeAid’s audiobox recorded every sound inside the apartment. They listened to the recording in February in the office of Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore
, though authorities have not released it publicly.
According to the official police version, the officers heard loud noises inside and thought someone else might be in danger. They said they needed to force their way inside to make sure everything was okay.
But Chamberlain refused to open the door for them, according to the lawyers who listened to the audio recording. He was angry at being disturbed by the loud banging and by several police cars and fire engines. He became increasingly agitated as he saw more police arriving with guns drawn.
A nearly hour-long standoff ensued.
Chamberlain’s niece, Tonyia Greenhill
, who lived in an apartment upstairs, came down and tried to talk with police, but was ignored. Her uncle sounded scared and was begging the police through the door to leave him alone, she recalled.
One of the family’s lawyers is Mayo Bartlett
, a former Westchester assistant district attorney. He and the dead man’s son said someone can be heard screaming at Chamberlain on the LifeAid tape:
“I don’t give a f–k, n—-r, open the door!”
One of the people banging outside was also reportedly heard yelling: “I need to use your bathroom to pee!”
Others were taunting Chamberlain’s military service after they discovered he was a former Marine.
The LifeAid dispatcher, who was listening to every word of the commotion, offers at one point to contact family members of Chamberlain to intercede, and even tries to cancel the call for police assistance.
But a police officer is heard saying “We don’t need any mediators,” according to the lawyers.
Two other video cameras captured part of the events that night, and the family and its lawyers have seen those as well.
One is a security camera in the hall of the building. Another is attached to the stun gun police used.
Those reportedly show police prying the door partly open. At one point, according to Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., a metal object is slipped through the gap in the door and falls in the hallway.
“It’s hard to tell what it is, but that could be what police are saying was a hatchet,” the son said.
The tape runs for several more minutes while cops and firefighters work to remove the hinges to the door.
When they finally do, a camera reveals Chamberlain Sr. standing inside his apartment, wearing only boxer shorts, with his arms at his side and his hands empty, according to the son and the family’s lawyers.
“The minute they got in the house, they didn’t even give him one command,” Bartlett said. “They never mentioned ‘put your hands up.’ They never told him to lay down on the bed. The first thing they did … you could see the Taser light up … and you could see it going directly toward him.”
Why anyone would use a stun gun on a man with a known heart condition is astounding in itself.
But the cameras don’t capture anything more after that point, according to the son and lawyers. Police say Chamberlain later came at them with a knife, and one cop fired two shots. More than four months after the incident, authorities have refused to identify that cop.
Public Safety Commissioner Chong’s office declined Tuesday to say anything about the case, saying only that there’s an ongoing investigation.
Late last Thursday, following the national furor over the failure of authorities to take Trayvon Martin’s death to a grand jury, and following weeks of protests by Chamberlain’s family, District Attorney DiFiore met with the dead man’s son and the lawyers.
At last, she confirmed to them that a grand jury will begin hearing evidence in the case this month.
A medical alert, then killed by a copNov. 19, 2011
5:08 a.m.: Kenneth Chamberlain’s medical alert device accidentally goes off, triggering a response from the White Plains
Department of Public Safety.
5:25 a.m.: Police knock on Chamberlain’s door. He says he doesn’t need help and refuses to open it.
6:00 a.m.: Cops snap the lock and attempt to use Tasers on Chamberlain. One officer fires on the 68-year-old. Cops say he had a knife; the family’s attorney says he was unarmed.
7:09 a.m.: Chamberlain dies during surgery at White Plains Hospital.
Chamberlain family files notice of claim saying they plan to sue the Police Department.
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore tells Chamberlain’s family the case would be presented to a grand jury within a month.
White Plains Mayor Tom Roach releases a statement giving his “condolences” to Chamberlain’s family.
Chamberlain’s son petitions White Plains City Hall to pressure police to release the shooting officer’s name.