An attorney for the family of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., a Marine veteran slain in his home by White Plains, N.Y., police said that in some ways this case is worse than the killing of Trayvon Martin.
On Nov. 19, the 68-year-old Chamberlain was shot to death by White Plains Police Officer Anthony Carelli following a confrontation at Chamberlain’s apartment, where police responded to a medical alert from a Life Aid device.
Chamberlain, who had a heart condition, apparently accidentally pressed the device in his sleep. When police arrived, he refused to let them enter his apartment, explaining the call was a mistake.
LifeAid Medical Alert Services, the company that issued the medical device, confirmed to police that the call was in error, but the officers insisted on being admitted into the apartment.
Martin, 17, was shot Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, where Martin was visiting his father. Zimmerman, who has been charged with second-degree murder in the case, has said he shot Martin in self-defense during a confrontation.
A judge, in a second hearing for Zimmerman who was returned to jail after it was determined he and his wife had lied to the court about their assets in the previous bond hearing, set bond Thursday at $1 million. Zimmerman will have to raise $100,000 to make bail and the judge has placed news restrictions on the terms of the bond.
“Trayvon Martin was killed in a horrible situation by a vigilante. He [George Zimmerman] wasn’t hired or an employee of the city or law enforcement. He was just a wacko nut out there carrying a gun and did a terrible thing. This [case of Chamberlain] was—it was almost like an invading army was storming this man’s castle, because your home is supposed to be your castle,” Randolph McLaughlin said Monday during an interview on Democracy Now!, shortly before filing a $21 million civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan on behalf of Chamberlain’s family.
Less than two months earlier, a Westchester County grand jury decided not to indict officers involved in the incident. The city of White Plains, the White Plains Housing Authority and eight police officers were named in the lawsuit.
“So it wasn’t like they had to make a spur-of-the-moment decision, you know, someone’s coming at them with a gun or a knife, and it’s us or them,” Laughlin added. “They had an hour to figure out how to handle this. They had up to 10 to 12 officers around. There was a lieutenant in the station house. There were sergeants there. I mean, it wasn’t like they were a bunch of rogue officers just making a quick decision. They planned, they executed their plan, and they executed this man.”
The exchange was captured by an audio recording on the medical device, as well as a video camera on a police taser gun used on Chamberlain.
What started off as a request to confirm Chamberlain was not in need of assistance turned into a violent confrontation in which police cussed at Chamberlain and called him “nigger.” They demanded that Chamberlain let them into the apartment, then tasered the retiree before shooting him to death.
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore later told the New York Daily News that the use of the N-word was meant to “distract” Chamberlain, whom she described as emotionally disturbed, but also said she condemned the tactic.
The district attorney’s office has released tapes in which Chamberlain told the LifeAid operator he would not open his door to police who, he said, could hear him through the door telling them he did not need assistance.
Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., who has vowed to keep the pressure on local officials, had asked the city to suspend officers involved pending the outcome of a federal investigation of the case. His Facebook page chronicles his efforts to win justice for his father.
“Well, I tell people that, from the very beginning, it’s my belief and my opinion that the Westchester County DA did not present the evidence fully and fairly. So, to come back with no indictment whatsoever, you have to wonder what was actually on the table for the grand jury to look at. And this is just one step of many that we’re doing to try to hold the city of White Plains accountable for the death of my father,” Chamberlain told Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman.
Asked if filing the lawsuit would bring him any “relief,” Chamberlain replied, “Well, I don’t know so much it’s about relief. But again, it just is another step in accountability, because we need to pass laws, especially involving questionable police shootings.”
Jackie Jones, a veteran journalist and journalism educator, is director of Jones Coaching LLC, a career transformation firm.