Opening arguments are scheduled to begin on Monday in the trial of a New York City police officer who shot and killed a motorist in a traffic dispute as he headed home from work last year in Brooklyn.
Wayne Isaacs is the first police officer in the state to be tried under an executive order that gave the attorney general the power to investigate and prosecute officers for civilian deaths at their hands or in their custody.
Officer Isaacs, 38, is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Delrawn Small, 37, during a confrontation on July 4, 2016, in the Cypress Hills neighborhood. His trial is in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.
Last year, the police released grainy surveillance video of the shooting that shows Mr. Small getting out of his car and approaching the driver’s side of Officer Isaacs’s vehicle at a red light on Atlantic Avenue at the Bradford Street stoplight. Mr. Small quickly recoils and stumbles to the ground, as his girlfriend and two of their children, a 5-month-old boy and a 14-year-old girl, wait inside his car.
The police said Officer Isaacs, who was driving home after a 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift, fired his service pistol, striking Mr. Small in the arm, chest and abdomen. Officer Isaacs, who joined the department in 2013, stayed at the scene and told investigators that he acted in self-defense after Mr. Small punched him through an open window.
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story
After the video surfaced, the Police Department placed Officer Isaacs, who was assigned to the 79th Precinct in Bedford-Stuyvesant, on administrative duty and took away his gun and badge. He was suspended with pay when he was formally charged in September 2016.
His lawyer, Stephen C. Worth, said Officer Isaacs “looks forward to finally having the opportunity to have all the facts out concerning this incident.” He added, “We’re confident when all the facts are known, he’ll be found not guilty.”
The office of the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, seemed equally assured about its case, which is being handled by a unit created to work on cases stemming from the order and includes Joshua Gradinger, a former prosecutor in the Bronx who also worked in the Miami-Dade County state attorney’s office, and Jose Nieves, who worked in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
“Our special investigations and prosecutions unit is committed to following the facts wherever they may lead, without fear or favor,” Amy Spitalnick, the spokeswoman for Mr. Schneiderman, said. “We look forward to proving our case in court.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued the executive order, No. 147, in 2015, amid widespread protest over the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers. He said the order would allow the attorney general to prosecute cases where a law enforcement officer kills an unarmed civilian or cases in which there is a question of whether the civilian killed by an officer was armed and dangerous.
The video in Officer Isaacs’ case raised questions about the police account, prompting Mr. Schneiderman’s office to investigate.
Mr. Small, who was black and had no weapon, died the same week that two other unarmed black men were killed by the police. The deaths of Alton B. Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., were both captured on video and prompted protests across the country. This year, prosecutors decided not to bring charges against the officers involved in Mr. Sterling’s death; the officer who killed Mr. Castile was acquitted.
In New York State, Officer Isaacs is the only law enforcement officer the special unit has brought charges against. If convicted, he faces a sentence of up to life in prison.
The unit has investigated 11 other cases. Six were closed, while five remain open. Its prosecutors declined to investigate more than 80 additional cases, according to its biennial report.
Mr. Small’s widow, Wenona Small, from whom he was estranged, has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city. His girlfriend, Zaquanna Albert, has filed a federal claim against the Police Department for allowing off-duty officers to carry firearms.
Mr. Small’s sister, Victoria Davis, 34, said on Sunday that the past year had been challenging for their family, as her brother’s infant son turned 1 and the family celebrated other milestones without him. She said she was anxious but hopeful that the trial would yield justice for her older brother, who worked as a maintenance engineer at a Chelsea supermarket and was raising three children and two stepchildren.
“We’re going to be there every single day,” Mrs. Davis said. “We don’t have a choice because we have to make sure that we see this whole process through.”
Correction: October 22, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated where Jose Nieves previously worked. It was the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, not the Miami-Dade County state attorney’s office, where Joshua Gradinger had worked.