A Guyanese-born New York police officer was on Tuesday charged with the murder of an unarmed man, whom he fatally shot during an off-duty dispute in July, 2015.
According to a New York Times report, Wayne Isaacs, 37, pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and manslaughter and was granted US$500,000 bail and asked to lodge both his US and Guyanese passports. If convicted, he could face a life sentence.
The report said that Isaacs was handcuffed after the judge, Alexander B. Jeong, ordered him held on US$500,000 bail. Relatives of the slain man, Delrawn Small, sobbed, and his widow shrieked.
The report said that Assistant Attorney General Joshua Gradinger, in his bail submission, described the shooting as “a brutal, deliberate action wherein this defendant fired not one, not two, but three shots” at Small, “with absolutely no legal justification.” Officer Isaacs is said to be the first police officer to be prosecuted by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman since Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order in July, 2015 allowing the Attorney General to investigate certain deaths of civilians at the hands of officers.
The unit created under the mandate, the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit, has investigated six deaths so far. Two were found not to warrant criminal charges and three others remain under investigation, Schneiderman has said.
Guyanese lawyer Stephen C. Worth, who is defending Isaacs, said that his client would push for a trial. “At the end of it, we expect Officer Isaacs to be acquitted,” the lawyer said.
The lawyer called the prosecution’s bail request “outrageous” and said there was no reason to believe that his client, who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children, would flee.
He compared the case to that of another officer, Peter Liang, who was allowed to remain free following his indictment in 2014 for manslaughter in the killing of an unarmed man, Akai Gurley, in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project.
The report said that Justice Jeong ordered Isaacs to surrender his United States and Guyanese passports and any firearms he possessed besides his service weapon, which he had already surrendered along with the personal firearm used in the shooting.
At the time of the shooting, Isaacs was driving home early on July 4, 2015 after finishing a 4 p.m to midnight shift when he got into a traffic dispute with Small in the Cypress Hills neighbourhood.
Surveillance video showed Small approaching the Isaacs’ vehicle at a stoplight on Atlantic Avenue and within seconds he stumbled and fell to the ground.
A court document filed with the indictment said Isaacs told a responding officer minutes after the shooting that “[Small] kept hitting me. My lip, my lip.”
Outside the courtroom after the arraignment, Worth said the case turned on the question of when Isaacs had a right to defend himself. “What’s the point at which he can feel that deadly physical force is being used against him?” he said.