NEW YORK — The U.S. Justice Department will not pursue federal civil rights charges against four New York City police officers who killed an unarmed West African immigrant outside his Bronx apartment two years ago, a federal source close to the case said Wednesday.
The four officers were cleared of murder and other charges in a state criminal trial last year. Amadou Diallo, 22, died in a hail of 41 bullets in what the officers all testified was a tragic error.
The federal source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the decision was pending formal notification of the Diallo family, which was meeting with U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White.
The Diallo family, along with many of their supporters, had hoped for a federal civil rights prosecution of the officers.
Diallo was black, and the four undercover officers were white in the Feb. 4, 1999, shooting that exacerbated racial tensions in the city.
The Diallo family still has a $61 million civil suit against the city, its last legal recourse in the case.
Diallo was shot when he reached for his wallet; the officers said they believed he was reaching for a gun.
White’s office proposed the meeting after Robert Conason, the attorney for the victim’s mother Kadiatou Diallo, sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder blasting Justice Department officials.
“The seeming lack of courage displayed by the failure to either seek an indictment or formally close the investigation could only be taken ... as an example of politics at its worst,” Conason wrote in an excerpt printed in the New York Post, which initially reported the decision not to prosecute the officers on its Web site.
All of the officers acquitted last year – Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy – remain on the force. They were searching for a rape suspect when they stopped Diallo outside his home.
Federal civil rights prosecutions following state acquittals are extremely rare.
In the Diallo case, authorities would have required proof that the officers violated Diallo’s civil rights by intentionally using excessive force.
In the state trial, the officers argued they fired in self defense, believing that Diallo was about to pull a weapon on them.
The officers were members of the NYPD’s Street Crime Unit at the time of the shooting. They were driving around the Bronx in an unmarked car and wearing plainclothes when they spotted Diallo.
Shortly after Diallo’s death, White announced her office had begun the civil rights probe.
White’s office also has a separate, broader investigation under way into police training and practices, especially by the Street Crime Unit.
The Diallo family, in its civil lawsuit, claims the officers used unnecessary force to deprive their son “his right to life.”
It also charges the shooting resulted from racial profiling sanctioned by the police department, including stopping and frisking black males without justification.