WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — A lawyer for the family of a mentally ill black man fatally shot by a white police officer told a jury on Wednesday that even if the shooting was a mistake the officer should be held responsible for letting a simple medical call escalate into violence.
"This situation got out of control," lawyer Randolph McLaughlin said in his closing argument in federal court. "What the officers did that day was way out of control."
A jury is deliberating whether White Plains Officer Anthony Carelli was right to shoot Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. during a standoff at his home in 2011, the Journal News reported (http://lohud.us/2eHaXXE ).
The deadly encounter at Chamberlain's apartment in suburban White Plains was a precursor to the national debate over use of force by police in communities of color and in response to calls involving emotionally disturbed people.
Carelli and White Plains, just north of New York City, were sued by Chamberlain's family for $21 million. The lawsuit went forward after a grand jury declined to indict the officer.
Lawyers for Carelli and White Plains insisted the shooting was justified, saying the officer used deadly force only as a last resort.
Chamberlain's son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., called his father a victim of "systematic racism" by law enforcement.
At the time of the shooting, Chamberlain was living alone and was suffering from bipolar disorder, arthritis and respiratory illness, conditions that prompted his family to give him a LifeAid medical alert device in case he needed help.
On Nov. 19, 2011, Chamberlain, a former Marine Corps veteran, accidentally set off the alert, prompting police to go to his door. During a confrontation, authorities said, officers used a stun gun and a bean bag weapon to try to subdue him before shooting him.
Carelli testified he "had no other option" but to shoot Chamberlain because he believed Chamberlain was about to harm a police sergeant.
In closing arguments, McLaughlin said he did not believe Carelli fired maliciously.
"He was nervous," he said. "I don't believe he's an evil person. Not at all. He made a mistake."
Information from: The Journal News, http://www.lohud.com