On Sept. 20, 2012, five New York Police Department officers pinned Tyjuan Hill to the ground and a sixth shot him in the back of the head.
Years before the Black Lives Matter movement focused national attention on the questionable killings of black men by police, Hill’s death barely registered beyond Brooklyn, where he died.
That won’t be the case on Sept. 12 when a federal trial begins for a civil rights lawsuit brought against the NYPD by Hill’s mother, Carol, in a Manhattan federal courthouse.
Representing Hill are attorneys Philip Smallman and Michael Colihan, who walked The Daily Beast through the last moments of her son’s on the corner of Henry and Huntington Streets in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on a July afternoon.
According to Smallman and Colihan, the city’s Law Department headed by Zachary Carter seems unwilling to negotiate a settlement, and appears ready to go to trial, where the lawyers say some very unsettling and disturbing facts and eyewitness testimony will become public.
“That night Tyjuan Hill was in the front passenger seat of a 1999 green Mazda four-door sedan that pulled up here to this northeast corner,” said Colihan. “They had just bought $10 worth of gas in the corner station there on the northbound side of Hamilton Avenue. Then the Mazda drives past this corner of Henry and Huntington where they see a Hispanic street walker strutting provocatively.”
“Tyjuan Hill was in the front passenger seat but the guy in the rear of the driver’s side of the Mazda opened his window and spoke with the hooker,” said Smallman, a former Brooklyn prosecutor and successful criminal attorney who has helped spring two wrongfully convicted African American convicts from prison and who has run unsuccessfully on Republican and Conservative party lines for Brooklyn judgeships. “Police say the kids in the Mazda bargained with the hooker for $40—10 bucks apiece—for oral sex for all four guys.”
The hooker was actually undercover police officer Cairley Rivera, working as part of a 76 Precinct anti-prostitution sting called Operation Losing Proposition. Rivera claimed that the male in the rear driver’s side seat climbed out and waved her into the car. She did not enter.
“P.O. Rivera claims that then the guy actually grabbed her arm,” said Smallman. “Which is police lie number one. Because our private investigator, Mike Pizzi, former chief of the U.S. Marshals Service in Brooklyn with 30 years on the job—found a surveillance tape from that building there on the southwest corner of this intersection that clearly shows no one ever laid a hand on Rivera. Anyway, Rivera was wired and called for backup.”
Within seconds a silver unmarked police car raced from nearby Nelson Street squealing nose first to a halt in front of the Mazda parked in front of 707 Henry St. A takedown team of three plainclothes cops—Sgt. Patrick Quigley, P.O. Jose Cofresi, and P.O. Benigno Gonzalez—leapt out, guns drawn, ordering the four young guys out of the Mazda.
“All four kids exit the Mazda as commanded, placing their hands on the roof of their car,” said Colihan.
“They’re facing bullshit B-misdemeanors, carrying a max of 90 days or a $500 fine,” Smallman interrupted.
“But then Tyjuan Hill bolts,” Colihan continued. “Cops would later say because he had a gun. P.O. Cofresi chases him on foot.”
Another unmarked back-up car driven by Officer Bradley Tirol also gives chase.
Tyjuan Hill’s mother, Carol, said he was arrested at 19 along with a kid who was accused of stealing another kid’s cellphone, but she says her son was not a violent criminal.
“My son was implicated,” she said. “Believe me I did not take that lightly because you should never take anything from anybody. And I gave him anything he needed. But Tyjuan was not accused of violence or using a weapon.”
Carol said Tyjuan was put in an alternative sentencing program but was caught in violation for testing positive for marijuana. “The judge put him in jail for a few days,” she said. “Then he put him in an upstate drug program. He got violated again for marijuana. He went to jail for one day. When he got back to the program he spotted another client wearing his clothes and sneakers. He got into a fistfight with him and for that he was sent to prison for 18 months.”
“Tyjuan probably runs because he’s on parole for that robbery for which he’s already done 18 months,” said Smallman.
Smallman and Colihan retrace Hill’s final steps east on Huntington Street, a grim, shadowy side street of gated garages and auto supply shops, lined with parked cars, facing the gas station where Hill’s pal filled up that fateful night.
When Hill bolts, Sgt. Quigley, according to a neighbor, screams “‘I’m gonna get that fucking son of bitch for running,’” said Colihan.
Quigley got in a silver undercover car and chased Hill, later joined by Officer Daniel Casella.
The cavernous meridian beneath the loud, rumbling Gowanus Expressway was fenced off for construction that September night—as it still is four years later—and so Hill ran toward the corner of West 9th Street where he apparently hoped to turn left and sprint into the warren of side streets leading to leafy Carroll Gardens.
He never made it to the corner.
Tirol jumped out of a chase car and tackled him in the gutter near the curb of the meridian just south of West 9th Street.
“He is joined immediately by P.O. Cofresi, P.O. Benigno Gonzalez, and P.O. Sanbaf Ouk. Then as they struggled with 5-foot-9, 140-pound Hill, Sgt. Daniel Casella joins the take down. A toxicology report later determined that Hill had no drugs or alcohol in his system. And yet the cops would have you believe Hill had the super human strength to fight off these five cops who sprayed him two or three times with pepper spray.”
Then as Hill lay prone, blinded, face down in the gutter, with five cops on top of him—two of whom would later admit in depositions could bench press more than 300 pounds—police say they could only get a handcuff on one wrist.
“We’re talking about 1,000 pounds of human weight, trained professional policemen, on top of a 140-pound guy,” Smallman said.
“And then here comes Sgt. Quigley,” said Colihan, pointing to the corner. “He’s a sixth cop who jumps out of the original silver car on West 9th and Hamilton. He said he runs over and straddles Hill, sitting on his lower back.”
Colihan asks, “And we are supposed to believe, and the city thinks a jury will believe, that somehow this 140-pound guy raises 1,200 pounds of policemen, with a dozen trained hands trying to cuff him, and manages to raise himself up to his knees, reach into his waistband, pull out a .9mm Kel Tech pistol, and somehow point it over his left shoulder ay Sgt. Quigley?”
Yet it was at this point that Sgt. Quigley, 33, said he heard Tirol bark “Gun! Gun! Gun!” into his portable police radio, which he would have needed to key with a free hand to transmit while also struggling with Hill. Quigley has said in depositions that at this point, fearing for his life, he drew his NYPD standard issue Smith and Wesson 5946 .9mm pistol and fired a single shot into the back of Hill’s head. The bullet lodged in the back of Hill’s right eye.
“The close range shot was so powerful that Quigley said Hill’s brain matter and blood blew backwards into his mouth, soaking his civilian shirt,” said Smallman.
“In 32 years of hundreds of federal civil rights cases my deposition of Sgt. Quigley was hands down the strangest and most chilling I’ve ever done,” Colihan said. “One minute Quigley was giggling and laughing giving answers about the shooting. The next he was weeping.”
Smallman points to the curb where a police forensic photographer would later photograph the .9 mm Kel Tech Hill allegedly carried and attempted to use that night.
“How the gun wound up on the curb if Hill was face down in the gutter no one can answer,” said Smallman. “We will strongly contest that there is any credible evidence that this was even Hill’s gun. Plus there was no bullet racked into the chamber so that even if Hill was aiming the gun he could not have fired a bullet without racking the slide, which would have required a second free hand.
“So a guy with six cops on top of him facing a B misdemeanor collar and a possible two-year parole violation is going to risk 25 years by aiming a gun over his shoulder at a cop without a bullet in the chamber? Meanwhile P.O. Gonzalez said he never even saw a gun. C’mon, man. This is what the city wants to present to a federal jury?”
Smallman said that as a prosecutor the easiest defense to beat was one accusing cops of planting evidence on a suspect.
“That’s why as a defense attorney I am always hesitant to use flaking as a defense,” he said. “Like most jurors I like cops. I support our cops. My son-in-law was just sworn in as a cop. But in this case, I would say there is better than a 50 percent chance that that gun was planted. And if Hill did have a gun it would have been impossible for him to try to use it lying face down with six cops on top of him.”
“In the end there were 11 cops, including three NYPD sergeants and two female cops, to make this solicitation bust,” said Colihan. “Somehow in that quality-of-life bust Tyjuan Hill is shot dead in the back of his head by a cop who claimed he felt his life was in danger.”
Carol Hill said she doesn’t think her son was shot intentionally.
“I think Sgt. Quigley pulled his gun in a panic and in the struggle it went off accidentally. And that it is being covered up. I could live with that if they would just admit it. But trying to tell me that my son was shot in the back of the head by a cop who felt his life was in danger is an impossible falsehood to live with.”
Carol Hill said she relives the pain every time she sees another news story about another young black man being killed by white cops.
“Oh my God all I could think about was my Tyjuan. This poor man Alton Sterling was on his back when the cops shot him dead point blank. My son was face down, which is worse. I feel sick. I can’t sleep. I know what that poor family is feeling because I still feel that pain and loss four years later. If I didn’t have a second child to live for I probably would have committed suicide from the grief of losing my boy.”
Pizzi, the retired head of the U.S. Marshals Service in Brooklyn, did all the investigating for Colihan and Smallman on the Hill case.
“No one is more pro-law enforcement than me,” said Pizzi, from his Florida home, where he has just finished writing an autobiography of his law enforcement exploits. “I led hundreds of raids into the Red Hook projects—where Tyjuan Hill lived—to arrest truly dangerous and violent fugitives. As a boss, I had to review some hairy marshal shooting incidents over the years. But I have never, ever in all my 30 years in law enforcement, seen a case like the Tyjuan Hill case. Nothing the police have said on the record or in depositions squares with the facts, with eyewitness accounts, with videos we have obtained, and with the wild contradictions amongst the police themselves.”
And yet this case seems destined for a federal jury trial.
“We do not discuss settlement negotiations (or even if we are having negotiations) with the media,” said Nick Paolucci, spokesman for the New York City Corporation Counsel. “Nor do we try matters in the press. We trust the jury will come to the right decision after considering all the facts.”
“The shame of this is that Carol Hill never wanted publicity on this case,” said Smallman. “She didn’t want and we didn’t want a racially charged media circus. I don’t know if Mayor de Blasio is even aware of this case because it happened under Bloomberg-Kelly. But his Corporation Counsel has inherited it and when the facts of this case come out at trial they will be explosive.”
Especially if there is another questionable police killing over the looming long hot summer.
“I can’t wait to do a demonstration with pillows or dummies in front of a jury on this case,” said Pizzi. “I am telling you that what the police say Tyjuan Hill tried to do is simply a physical impossibility. Never happened. I say that as a registered Conservative and a proud lawman who always gives law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. There is no doubt in my mind that Tyjuan Hill never should have died that night.”