Shades of Ferguson: family of NY teen shot dead by cop wins lawsuit

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 27, 2014 4:26 PM

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Relatives of a Hispanic teen shot dead by a white New York police officer are headed back to court in January after winning a lawsuit in a case that could set the stage for the family of slain teenager Michael Brown.

A day after a Missouri grand jury declined to indict the white police officer in Brown's death, a jury hearing civil cases in Bronx Supreme Court unanimously decided on Tuesday that the City of New York and NYPD Sergeant Robert Barnett were liable in the 2005 death of 19-year-old Leonel Disla.

The Bronx court will reconvene with a new jury in January to decide how much it will award in damages to the family of Disla, who was born in the Dominican Republic, the family's attorney, Ilaan Maazel, said on Thursday.

Maazel drew a parallel with the Brown case, which has sparked national turmoil over police relations with minority communities.

Ferguson police said Brown was unarmed but tried to get hold of the officer's weapon, while New York police said Disla waved a 7-inch knife blade at officers trying to break up a fight - a version of events Maazel challenged at the civil trial.

Barnett fired twice at Disla, inflicting a fatal wound to the abdomen. The young man died a few hours later at a local hospital.

Like in the Brown case, no criminal charges were filed against Barnett, a veteran officer who said he acted out of fear for his safety.

"In both cases there was no special prosecutor investigating the police, and I think that's a problem," Maazel said. "Police have a hard job but it's so important that when a police officer violates the law that he's held accountable."

While no criminal charges were filed, the teen's mother, Candida Disla, pressed a civil suit.

"The family has waited a very long time to get some justice in this case," Maazel said.

Tuesday's verdict finding the city and Barnett liable was the result of a successful appeal reversing a verdict two years ago that cleared them of liability.

A lawyer for the city, Patrick Mantione, said he opposed the second jury's decision.

"We respectfully disagree with the second jury’s verdict and will evaluate our options," he said.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)