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Saturday Morning News

Verdict Reached in Diallo Shooting Trial But Case is Far From Over

Aired February 26, 2000 - 9:00 a.m. ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin this morning in New York, with the fallout from a racially charged trial. Four white police officers were acquitted yesterday in the killing of an unarmed African immigrant. Now the Justice Department is weighing the evidence, reviewing the records to see if they can make a federal case.

CNN's Maria Hinojosa has more.


MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amadou Diallo: His name has been shouted in the streets of New York for over a year. Activists declared him a victim of racial profiling of four white police officers out of control.

UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: What was your verdict in reference to the charge of reckless endangerment in the first degree under the third count of the indictment?


UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: Was your verdict unanimous?


HINOJOSA: But with those words, the "Bronx Four," as their colleagues call them, were cleared of charges they murdered an unarmed man in a hail of 41 bullets. They were also cleared of several lesser charges.


HINOJOSA: The defense had argued it was all a terrible mistake, that the officers thought Diallo was suspicious and was about to pull a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: What was your verdict in reference to the charge of reckless endangerment in the first degree under the third count of the indictment?


KADIATOU DIALLO, MOTHER: What I can say to the jury, that I thank them for their patience, that I don't blame them.

HINOJOSA: Diallo's mother told CNN the acquittal does not end her quest for justice, that this was never just about the actions of those four officers or about the fact that her son was killed on his own doorstep.

DIALLO: It takes the life of innocent men for the people to understand that black people also can be innocent. You don't look at them by the color of their skin.

HINOJOSA: The four officers have always insisted this was never about race, just a terrible tragedy, a mistake.

STEPHEN WORTH, ATTORNEY FOR OFFICERS: That's what's important here, that we're going to let police officers do their jobs. And when the evidence supports them, a jury will support them.


HINOJOSA: Last night in New York City, 15 demonstrators were arrested for disorderly contact at a protest near where Amadou Diallo was shot. Here in Albany several hours after the acquittal, about 75 demonstrators faced off with police and 15 demonstrators were arrested here.

Later today, a demonstration planned for Manhattan, and Mrs. Diallo plans to hold a peace march through the streets of the Bronx -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Maria, a little while ago, I was talking to the Bronx district attorney. And he put as a turning point in this trial, of course, the change of venue. Now offsetting that is the fact that it was a racially mixed jury. What's the feeling in Albany right now? Do they feel as if this was a fair rendering?

HINOJOSA: Well, that's what everybody has been saying, that this was a fair rendering. It was a very racially mixed jury. You had four African-American women, six white men, one white woman. The forewoman was an African-American woman, so the sense here in Albany is that the jury listened to the evidence and gave their verdict as they saw it -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Give us a sense -- clearly we saw the officers embracing each other and a lot of emotion there, but on the periphery of the cameras, give is a sense of the kind of emotion that you encountered during the verdict yesterday.

HINOJOSA: As soon as I was able to step away from the responsibilities that I had to do, there was a major confrontation here with the police, very angry. The police lined up with their horses, the demonstrators being very confrontational with the police.

Then when I went back into the hotel, there was a celebration happening. The lawyers, the defense attorneys, several of the police supporters were celebrating the verdict, the acquittals. So very mixed emotions here in Albany. O'BRIEN: Now most everyone you talk to who has watched this trial closely, yourself among them, has said that given the nature of the burden of proof here and given the instructions that the judge gave the jury, the jury really didn't have much of a choice in the matter. Would you concur with that line of reasoning?

HINOJOSA: Well, there were six times the judge read to them, when he was giving the jury their instructions, telling them that if they felt that the police officers were acting in self-defense, then under New York state law there was justification. This was the way the law was presented to the jury, and as you know in a trial and with a jury you must follow the laws of the land as they are put to you by the judge in his instructions.

O'BRIEN: Is there a sense that the judge in some way was favoring the defense in this case?

HINOJOSA: Not from what I'm hearing here, no. This judge has been very -- taken very seriously. He's a judge who has a tremendous amount of control over his courtroom. This is a trial that lasted just about three weeks, very much under control of State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi. There's no sense from what I'm hearing, at least on the street level, that this judge has any favor in this trial.

O'BRIEN: Of course the book is not closed on this particular case. It moves into different areas of the legal system, potentially federal charges and almost most certainly a civil case, which we'll talk a little bit more about in just a moment. What's the sense up there? Is this likely to move to a federal civil rights kind of case?

HINOJOSA: Absolutely. Mrs. Diallo told me last night that she does not feel defeated, that she has plans to continue to press this case, and federal civil rights laws is what she will be pressing in -- looking into immediately upon her return to New York City.

O'BRIEN: Maria Hinojosa, who has been watching the trial for us all along, thanks very much for being with us.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now at the site where Diallo dies in a barrage of 41 bullets, there now stands a makeshift memorial in memory of the African immigrant. The shooting has been called a great tragedy, and one resident says it will take the community quite a while to recover.

For more perspective on the Diallo case, we go to Anthony Gair. He's the co-counsel representing the Diallo family in an impending civil suit against the four police officers and the New York Police Department.

Thank you for joining us, Mr. Gair.


PHILLIPS: Mrs. Diallo was quite calm yesterday. How did you explain all this to her? GAIR: well, we had prepared her for this over the last several weeks and explained to her exactly what could happen. We've been pessimistic about the outcome since we -- since the case was moved to Albany, so we prepared her for this result as best we could.

PHILLIPS: Howe did you prepare her? What did you say?

GAIR: Well, we told her quite frankly that there very well could be an acquittal in the case, and she should in fact expect the worst.

PHILLIPS: No the justice system will prevail -- this is what she says, this is what she has faith in, that the justice system will prevail. What exactly is she basing that faith on?

GAIR: Well, we've spoken to her, and she knows that -- as you know, we went to Washington and met with Eric Holder, the second in command at Justice prior to the trial. During the trial, we expressed our concerns to the Justice Department and put that on the record. And we intend very shortly to meet with the Justice Department again to once again express our concerns.

PHILLIPS: Now what exactly will that involve when you do take it to the federal level?

GAIR: well, it would involve us meeting with the representatives of the Department of Justice, telling them what our concerns are and asking them to prosecute under the federal civil rights laws.

PHILLIPS: Mr. Gair, what sort of damages do you want to seek in a civil suit.

GAIR: Well, the damages would be several -- wrongful death, obviously, of the Diallos' son and pain and suffering, but more importantly, punitive damages as the result of the intentional killing of Amadou Diallo.

PHILLIPS: Will you fight for the civil trial to be in the Bronx?

GAIR: well, I don't think there's any question that should we bring it in the Bronx it will remain in the Bronx. It's a different situation.

PHILLIPS: OK, civil attorney for Mrs. Diallo, Anthony Gair, thanks for being with us this morning.

GAIR: Thank you very much.


O'BRIEN: The Democratic candidates for president are voicing their opinions on the verdict in the Diallo case. Vice President Gore says -- and this is a quote:

"The shooting of Amadou Diallo, an innocent man, stunned New York City and the nation. I join in urging calm in the wake of the verdict. Following the shooting, the civil rights division of the Justice Department opened an investigation, and the facts will now be reviewed to determine whether federal action is warranted. That review should be thorough and fair," end of quote from the vice president.

Former Senator Bill Bradley had this to say:


BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was stunned by the verdict. I think that it shows that when racial profiling seeps so deeply into somebody's mind, a wallet in the hand of a white man, but a wallet in the hand of a black man looks like a gun.


O'BRIEN: As you can imagine, other police officers and their supporters were closely watching the Diallo case, to say the least. Among them, Patrick Lynch, who is president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. The group is the union and main support system for police officers in New York City.

Mr. Lynch joining us from Albany to talk more about the case.

Thanks for being with us, sir.


O'BRIEN: Good.

Does this in any was vindicate some police tactics which your organization wouldn't necessarily support?

LYNCH: It vindicates these four police officers who were wrongfully convicted. This case did not rise to the level of a crime. It should never have been an indictment and it never should have gotten to this courtroom in the first place.

O'BRIEN: Now these officers, unless something drastic happens, might very well end up back on the street. How much of an ability do they have to do their job right now?

O'BRIEN: They should absolutely be allowed to go back on the street. we should respect the verdict that was in this courtroom. We had an ethnically diverse jury that deliberated on this case. They did not walk in and vote immediately and come out, they sat for days, deliberated, looked at each of the facts. They should be allowed to go back to work and do their job, a job they do well.

O'BRIEN: Any time there's an emotionally charged case like this, it has a ripple effect in the communities where these events occur. How concerned are you about your police brethren in the Bronx, as they attempt to do their job in the Bronx in the wake of this verdict.

LYNCH: I'm concerned that there may be a second thought, a hesitation in a police officer's thought pattern. And when there's that hesitation in a confrontational situation, that costs lives. That costs police officers lives, their partners lives and civilian lives. And there's entirely too many funerals as there is.

O'BRIEN: What about the overall tactics here? Under the Giuliani administration, the police department in new York has been very aggressive. The crime rates are down, but some of the tactics have been called into question, "stop and frisk" being the buzz phrase that goes along with all this. Are police going to far in New York?

LYNCH: No, absolutely not. You have to realize that many of the neighborhoods and communities in New York City were quite dangerous many years ago. Now you can walk down the street safely. Your children can go to school in safety. That's because of the work of the men and women of the New York City Police Department. They risk their lives day in and day out. This is not important to every circumstance that happened, this was an absolute tragedy.

It was a tragedy for the Diallo family, and it's a tragedy for these four police officers, who now have to try to put their lives together. Their lives and their careers have been on hold since last February.

O'BRIEN: But in the zeal to be aggressive, are people's rights being overlooked?

LYNCH: Absolutely not. We save hundreds and hundreds of lives every day. Just by a police officer being on the corner you're saving lives. We've saved lives and blood each and every day. The murder rate has dropped dramatically in New York City. What about those lives that we've saved every single day we go out on patrol?

O'BRIEN: Robert Lynch -- Patrick Lynch -- I apologize -- who's with the Police Benevolent Association, thank you very much for being with us on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

LYNCH: Thank you.


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