In the early hours of Monday, July 4, an off-duty New York City Police officer shot and killed a black man.
In a week full of national stories about killer cops and cop killers, this one barely registered. The shooting was a “road-rage incident,” one police source told the New York Post. Wayne Isaacs “feared for his life” as Delrawn “Smalls” Dempsey pummeled him in the face, these sources said. Unreleased footage showed Smalls “punching the shit” out of Isaacs as the off-duty cop, a three-year veteran of the NYPD who’d just changed out of his uniform after finishing a 4-to-midnight shift, sat in his car, these sources said. “After he was struck in the face and head numerous times, Isaacs, fearing for his life, pulled out his weapon and fired three times.” ..
Besides, the police chorus noted, Smalls was a guy with a long rap sheet and three stints in jail. One whose own girlfriend told police after he was shot that he’d been drinking, had a hot temper and that she couldn’t restrain him when he went to attack the man in the other car.
But Friday, the Post published the black-and-white surveillance video the sources had alluded to, and it showed something very different: Smalls approaching Isaacs’s car on foot, then a movement—ducking his head and cocking his shoulder—as he nears Dempsey’s window. A second after that, he falls to the ground.
Even before the video was posted, Smalls’s girlfriend, Zaquanna Albert, who was in the car with him just before the shooting, along with the couple’s infant son and one of her teenage daughters, gave a very different description of the events from what police sources had voiced on her behalf:
“I’m so upset about this 4 lives taken by the police department in a few days and I express my deepest sympathy to the other families and I’m trying hard real frigging hard to be strong for him but he knew I was a crybaby,” she wrote in a Thursday Facebook post, which featured Smalls’s picture among those of other black men recently killed by police. “THE pain is a unexplainable. # justice #standup#fatherlesssons #UNEXCEPTABLE”
The investigation into the shooting is being run by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who one year after Eric Garner was killed in New York was named special prosecutor to oversee cases of police-involved civilian deaths.
“At the end of the day, if the attorney general decides he used poor judgement in shooting here, that’s fine, but he didn’t get out of his car and shoot this guy,” a police department official said. “Finally, it’s about (Isaac’s) perspective: what was he thinking at the time and did he have reason to fear.”
But one New York law-enforcement official who didn’t want to be further identified weighing in on another office’s investigation said that the video doesn’t look good for Isaacs.
“The point is it’s almost instantaneous, it in no way appears to be life-or-death. The officer just doesn’t seem to be justified in his reaction,” the official said. “Again there’s no car in front of him as far as you can see so it’s not like he can’t roll up the window and drive so yeah it doesn’t look good.”