Independence Day (July 4th) is usually a day people look forward to gathering with family and friends to enjoy good food and conversation. For some families, however, this day marks a tragedy that seeks justice. In the very early morning of July 4, 2016, Delrawn Small, 37, lost his life on Atlantic Avenue between Bradford and New Jersey Streets in the Cypress Hills section of Brooklyn. In a matter of two or three seconds, Delrawn Small, an unarmed man, went from being an angry man approaching the car of off-duty Police Officer Wayne Isaacs, who had sideswiped him several blocks before, to a man dying from three gunshots to his chest from Isaacs’ gun. The New York Post obtained the film footage of the incident from an undisclosed source.
The family and community member present were outraged. City Council member Charles Barron sought for an investigation by the NYS Attorney General. What the people received was a trial in the Brooklyn Supreme Court. P.O. Wayne Isaacs was suspended from duty, stripped of his badge and gun. Isaacs also faced 25 years to life in prison had he been convicted.
Presiding over the trial was Judge J. Alexander Jeong in the 2nd floor Ceremonial Courtroom. Prosecuting attorneys were Joshua Gradinger and Jose Nieves. The defending attorneys were Stephen Worth and Michael Martinez. The twelve jurors consisted of five men and seven women whose racial or ethnic backgrounds included African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic and Asian. The seating for the public was arranged such that the victim’s family sat in the series of benches to the left; the Attorney General’s Office and the press sat in the series of benches in the middle and the defendant’s family and co-workers in the right bank of benches.
NOTE: This reporter attended two days of the prosecution’s examination on October 24 and October 25, and the day of the verdict on November 6, 2017.
Detective Crawford, a female member of service, provided testimony about the firearms in Isaacs’ personal car while off-duty. She said she arrived at the scene at approximately 1:15 AM, and stayed there until 10:30 AM. The location of the incident was on Atlantic Avenue, off Bradford Street. Det. Crawford received Isaacs’ firearms, which consisted of a Glot 26 semi-automatic, 8 cartridges and a magazine used in a semiautomatic handgun, cartridges and a round of bullets that had not been fired.
Another witness was NYC Fire Department Paramedic Manuela Farenta-Ralph. It was Farenta-Ralph who turned Mr. Small’s body over. The photo displayed in the courtroom showed Small laid prone on the ground. His shirt is pulled away from one shoulder to expose his chest. It was the display of this image that caused loud crying by two women, one being Small’s wife Zeequanna Albert. The judge called a ten-minute recess. Upon resumption, Farenta-Ralph stated the time of death was 00:13 hours, or 12:13 AM. This paramedic explained, “There was no signs of life”. And that the person “had a mortal injury”. Farenta-Ralph did not administer CPR.
The testimony on October 25, 2017 included a recollection from Sinious Mann and one C.O., Williams, who is a correction officer at Rikers Island. Sinious Mann said that he was on his way home with his son from a barbecue in Cypress Hills to his home on Bradford Street. Mann heard a woman yelling, “Stop, Don’t Do It!” and “Please Stop!” These cries had Mann concerned about the safety of his son and himself and therefore walked much faster. Mr. Mann and his son’s faces are seen on the tape that the New York Post acquired.
On November 6, 2017, the benches were filled with Delrawn Small’s family and supporters; the media in the center bank of benches and Isaacs’ co-workers and supporters to the right. Delrawn Small’s supporters were noticeably upbeat and expectant of verdicts in the Small’s favor. There was occasional laughter. Council member Charles Barron sat with Victor Dempsey and Victoria Davis, Small’s surviving siblings, and Black Lives Matter President Hawk Newsome sat in the last row of the middle bank of benches.
At or about 12:15 PM, the twelve jurors filed into the courtroom and sat in their designated juror seats. Judge Jeong admonished, “No matter the verdict, there should be no outbursts in the courtroom”. The judge asked the foreperson the verdict for “Murder in the Second Degree”. The foreperson responded, “Not guilty”. The judge asked the verdict for “Manslaughter in the First Degree”. The foreperson said, “Not guilty”. Judge Jeong asked each juror to state whether the verdicts given were their personal dispositions. Each one, in turn, said the verdict was his or her individual verdict. Hawk Newsome shouted, “The whole system is corrupt. All of you are murderers!” Other voices cried foul. CM Charles Barron consoled the weeping siblings.
Much has been written and stated about the challenges for African-Americans to secure redress for police brutality. USC Law Professor Jody David Armour opined, “African-Americans who are hurt by the police must be above reproach to get fair treatment in the media…Delrawn Small has a criminal record and had been drinking before he was killed”. Harvard Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad believes, “The reporting is from the lens of the police instead of the victim”.