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The Police Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.

A young Kenneth Chamberlain 
in the Marine Corps.
A young Kenneth Chamberlain
in the Marine Corps.
The recent controversy over the killing of Trayvon Martin by community watch volunteer George Zimmerman has led to renewed attention to the November 19, 2011 killing of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., 68, by police officers of White Plains, New York. The cases are similar because both involve the shooting and killing of a black man and the Chamberlain family has alleged that Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., like Trayvon Martin, was unarmed when killed.

At 5:00 a.m. on November 19, 2011 Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., a former Marine and retired corrections officer, was fast asleep in his bed. He lived alone in an apartment in a public housing project at 135 S. Lexington Ave. in White Plains. Because Chamberlain Sr. suffered chronic heart problems, he wore a Life Alert pendant designed to notify the LifeAid company if he was in trouble.

Apparently, the sleeping man accidentally pressed the button on the Life Alert. The company tried to communicate with him through the two-way audio box that had been installed in his apartment. Receiving no response, a LifeAid employee asked police to check on Chamberlain Sr. at his home.

Police arrived and banged on the door. Chamberlain Sr. shouted that he was fine and did not need them.

At this point, stories diverge as to what occurred.

As reported in the New York Daily News, "According to the official police version, the officers heard loud noises inside and thought someone else might be in danger. They said they needed to force their way inside the make sure everything was okay."

Perhaps angered by being disturbed and unaware that he had inadvertently triggered a police visit, Chamberlain Sr. refused to let the officers in.

This led to a standoff that lasted nearly an hour.

Chamberlain Sr.'s niece, Tonyia Greenhill, lived in an apartment upstairs from him. Attracted by the commotion, she went downstairs and tried to talk with the police. She says they ignored her and that she heard her uncle, sounding scared, begging the officers to leave.

The White Plains Patch reports, "According to police, Chamberlain put a hatchet through his door prompting police to break the door down."

Firefighters joined police and together they removed hinges on Chamberlain Sr.'s door.

Police have stated that after they got inside, they found Chamberlain Sr. armed with a knife and appearing to threaten them.

Police zapped Chamberlain Sr. with a stun gun and shot him with a beanbag gun. Finally, Officer Anthony Carelli blasted him twice in the chest with live ammunition.

The wounded man was rushed to the White Plains Hospital where he soon died.

The irony for the Chamberlain family could hardly have been more bitter: the Life Alert pendant a chronically ill man had worn to save his life had led to his violent death.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, White Plains authorities insisted that Chamberlain Sr. had threatened officers. White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong declared it a "warranted use of deadly force."

Caught on Tape

However, Chamberlain's family charged that the killing was unjustified.

In February, 2012, Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore allowed the victim's son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., and Chamberlain family attorneys, to listen to the LifeAid audio box recording of what happened in Chamberlain Sr.'s apartment on November 19, 2011. DiFiore did not release the recording to the public.

The family and its lawyers were also allowed to view and listen to the events as recorded by a video camera in the building hallway and a video camera attached to the taser police used.

Kenneth Chamberlain, Jr. and family attorney Mayo Bartlett appeared on a radio talk show on March 29, 2012 called Democracy Now! to discuss what they say those recordings reveal.

Chamberlain Jr. related, "The medical company asked him if he was all right. They didn't get a response. So, automatically, if you don't get a response, they send medical services to your house. They informed the police that they are responding to a medical emergency, not a crime. And once they arrived at my father's home, my father did tell them that he was OK. But for some reason, they wanted to gain entry into my father's home. I don't know why. And in the audio, you hear my father telling them that he's fine, he's OK."
Chamberlain Jr. claims police refused to accept his father's assertion that he was fine and leave. "He's saying that he's OK. He's saying that he did not call for them," Chamberlain Jr. asserts. "But they were very insistent. They were banging on the door, banging on the door, banging on the door. So you hear one of the officers say to him, 'Well, you pushed your — you triggered your alarm now.' He said, 'That's because I want you to leave me alone.' And they just kept telling him, 'Open the door. Let us see that you're all right.' At some point, the door was cracked open, because the police officers have a taser that has a camera on it, and it also has audio." Chamberlain Jr. continues that his father repeatedly states that he needs no help yet the officers insist on entering the apartment. He finds it inexplicable that the officers insisted on entering the apartment after his father said he was fine since "they weren't responding to a crime" but to a medical alarm.
According to Chamberlain Jr. and Bartlett, a distressed Chamberlain Sr. called out, "I'm a sick old man." At that point an officer is heard hurling a racial epithet, shouting, "We don't give a f---, n-----!"

The pair state that an officer orders, "Open the door, Kenny, you're a grown-ass man!"

Chamberlain Sr. calls, "Semper fi."

An officer sarcastically answers, "Oh, you're a Marine. Hoo-rah. Hoo-rah."

A baffled Chamberlain Jr. comments on the talk show, "This is somebody that served his country. Why would you even say that to him?"

Bartlett states that the LifeAid dispatcher offers to contact Chamberlain family members to help and also tried to cancel the call for police assistance but an officer replied, "We don't need any mediators."

Police have said Chamberlain Sr. tried to attack them with a weapon before they broke into his home. In the radio interview Chamberlain Jr. argues, "He was inside his home. Where was the immediate threat?"

Chamberlain Jr. said that while police pried the door open, a metal object appears to slide through the gap between the door and wall and fall into the hallway. He comments, "It's hard to tell what it is but that would be what police are saying was a hatchet."

Officers claim that after they broke open the door, Chamberlain Sr. threatened them with a weapon that appeared to be a knife. In the radio interview, Bartlett asserts that the video recording shows Chamberlain Sr. without any weapon, shirtless, and with his hands by his sides.

Chamberlain Jr. and Barlett say police failed to issue any commands. Barlett states, "They never mentioned 'Put your hands up.' They never told him to lay down on the bed." Rather, Chamberlain Jr. says, "At one point, you hear one of the officers say, 'Shut it off.'"Chamberlain Jr. indicates that what was shut off was the taser camera and that his father was shot and killed shortly afterward.

Co-host of Democracy Now! Juan Gonzales revealed that Officer Anthony Carelli, who shot Chamberlain Sr., is due in court late April 2012 in an unrelated 2008 police brutality case. According to Democracy Now!, Carelli "is accused of being the most brutal of a group of officers who allegedly beat two arrestees of Jordanian descent and called them 'rag heads.'"

Autopsy Rips Holes in Police Story

The Chamberlain family's position was bolstered with the release of a 14-page autopsy report from the Westchester Medical Examiner's Office. Dr. Kunjlata Ashar prepared the report. In it, he wrote, "The path of the bullet through Mr. Chamberlain's arm and into his lungs tells me that his arm had to be by his side and not raised in a motion consistent with trying to stab someone."
Chamberlain Jr. commented, "I'm glad the autopsy is out, and shows that my father's hands were at his sides. It absolutely shows that my father wasn't the aggressor and that deadly force was not necessary."

Randolph McLaughlin, another attorney representing the Chamberlain family, noted that the report "contradicts the police version all together. It shows that he was a threat to no one. There's no excuse for what happened."

The autopsy report also showed that Chamberlain Sr. was legally drunk at the time he was shot. However, McLaughlin pointed out that the .11 percent blood alcohol was just over the legal limit to drive. His intoxication may not even be relevant since he was not driving but at home when killed.

The autopsy also reported, "No drugs of abuse were detected."

The Chamberlain killing was discussed at a "National Hoodie Day" rally held in front of the Westchester County Courthouse on April 10, 2012. The White Plains-Greenburgh chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held this rally as part of a nationwide effort to demand justice for Trayvon Martin and other blacks believed to be victims of racial profiling. The rallies have "Hoodie" in the title because Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was killed.

At the rally, White Plains-Greenburgh NAACP President Lena Anderson declared that those gathered were there "for National Hoodie Day . . . as a statement of outrage with regard to the Trayvon Martin case." She also stated, "We will not let Ken Chamberlain's death go unaccounted for."

A Grand Jury Convenes

Beginning in late March and early April 2012, over 200,000 people signed an online petition demanding justice in the Chamberlain case. On March 30, 2012, White Plains Mayor Tom Roach issued a public statement extending condolences to the Chamberlain family.
On April 11, 2012, a grand jury began listening to testimony about the Chamberlain Sr. shooting. The grand jury was convened to decide whether or not criminal charges should be brought in his death.

April 12 would have been Chamberlain Sr.'s 69th birthday. Chamberlain Jr. noted that the family still grieves — and seeks answers. "As far as our family — everyone is holding it together," he commented. "It's very upsetting, all of the media and everything — it's definitely overwhelming, but we have to continue to push this and make the public aware of what's happening."

Chamberlain Jr. also asserts that the Chamberlain family has no bias against law enforcement. "Me and my family are not anti-police," he states. "We are anti-individuals who feel like they can do whatever they want, to whomever they want, then hide behind the badge — but we are not anti-police. My father was [in] law enforcement, so why would we be anti-police?"

The Chamberlain family hoped the convening of the grand jury is a first step toward a satisfactory legal resolution of this case. Chamberlain Jr. said, "We're just very pleased that the evidence is finally being presented to the grand jury. We're just waiting now for what the decision is going to be after they present all the evidence. Hopefully, they'll come back with a criminal indictment. [Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore] has assured me she will present any and all evidence on this case to a grand jury, and we've taken her word on that."

On May 3, a 23-person grand jury voted against an indictment in the Kenneth Chamberlain case. After hearing testimony from 42 people, the grand jury came to the conclusion that there is no reasonable cause for charges to be filed. After hearing the decision, Chamberlain family lawyer Mayo Bartlett said, "It was my belief that at a minimum there would be a consideration at least of the charge of criminally negligent homicide," Bartlett said. "We don't know what charges were considered, we don't know if multiple charges were considered and we don't know who the targets of this investigation were."

The Chamberlain family issued the following statement: "As I have stated before it is hard to put trust in a system that I feel has failed me already and that no indictment sends a very strong message to the people of Westchester County regarding police misconduct, brutality and criminality. There will be justice for Kenneth Chamberlain Sr."


"Exclusive: Cop in Fatal Shooting of Ex-Marine Kenneth Chamberlain ID'd, Sued in 2008 Racism Case."http://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/5/exclusive_cop_in_fatal_shooting_of April 5, 2012.

Gonzalez, Juan. "Marine veteran Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. killed after clash with police who responded to his medical emergency." New York Daily News. April 4, 2012.

Liebson, Richard. "UPDATE: Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. autopsy released; shows blood alcohol level of .11 percent." Lohud.com. April 10, 2012.

Sciortino, Dina. "NAACP Holds National Hoodie Day in White Plains." White Plains Patch. April 11, 2012.

Sciortino, Dina. "UPDATE: What's Happening With the Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. Case." White Plains Patch. April 13, 2012.

Sciortino, Dina. "Kenneth Chamberlain Jr.: My Family is Not Anti-Police." White Plains Patch. April 13, 2012.

Smith, David. "Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.: Police Shouted Racial Slurs At Victim, A La Trayvon Martin, Before Killing Him." International Business Times. April 10, 2012.

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