There are far too many of these stories. Maybe now, thanks to the Trayvon Martin case, internal affairs investigators will actually do their jobs and reporters won’t be quite so eager to accept the official version of events. This case in November, featured on Democracy Now!, involved a 68-year-old man who accidentally pressed his medical alarm and ended up shot to death by police:
JUAN GONZALEZ: As the shooting death of Trayvon Martin continues to draw national attention, today we look at another controversial shooting of an African-American male that has received far less scrutiny. On the morning of November 19th, a 68-year-old former marine named Kenneth Chamberlain with a heart condition accidentally pressed the button on his medical alert system while sleeping. Responding to the alert, police officers from the city of White Plains, New York, arrived at Chamberlain’s apartment in a public housing complex shortly after 5 a.m. By the time the police left the apartment, Kenneth Chamberlain was dead, shot twice in the chest by a police officer inside his home. Police gained entry to Chamberlain’s apartment only after they took his front door off its hinges. Officers first shot him with a taser, then a beanbag shotgun, and then with live ammunition.
AMY GOODMAN: Police have insisted the use of force was warranted. They said Kenneth Chamberlain was emotionally disturbed and had pulled a knife on the officers. This is David Chong, public safety commissioner in White Plains.
DAVID CHONG: The officers first used an electronic taser, which was discharged, hit the victim, and had no effect. While the officers were retreating, the officers then used a shotgun, a beanbag shotgun.
AMY GOODMAN: Relatives of Kenneth Chamberlain have questioned the police portrayal of events that led to his death, and they say audio and video recorded at the scene back up their case. According to the family, Kenneth Chamberlain can be heard on an audio recording of his call to the medical alert system operator saying, quote, “Please leave me alone. I’m 68 with a heart condition. Why are you doing this to me? Can you please leave me alone?” Officers allegedly responded by calling Chamberlain a racial slur while urging him to open the door. The audio recording of the incident has not been made public and remains in the possession of the Westchester District Attorney’s office.
In early December, Kenneth Chamberlain, a retired marine, was buried with military honors. The family posted video of part of the ceremony.
Several months after his death, the name of the officer who killed Kenneth Chamberlain has yet to be released. The DA has vowed to convene a grand jury to determine if any of the officers should face charges.
We invited the White Plains Police Department and the Westchester DA’s office on to the program, but they declined to join us or issue a comment. But we are joined by Kenneth Chamberlain, Jr., the son of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., the victim, and by two of the family’s attorneys. Mayo Bartlett is the former chief of the Bias Crimes Unit of the Westchester County District Attorney’s office and the former chair of the Westchester County Human Rights Commission. Randolph McLaughlin is a longtime civil rights attorney. He teaches at Pace Law School.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Our condolences to your family, Kenneth Chamberlain, on the death of your father.
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what you understand happened early in the morning of November 19th.
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: Well, it’s my understanding that, from what I’ve gathered right now, that my father accidentally pushed his medical pendant around his neck. He could have possibly turned over on it. We don’t know. We can only speculate about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did he wear it?
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: He has a heart condition, and he also suffered from COPD. And when he—the pendant was triggered—
AMY GOODMAN: You’re holding that in—
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —his hand.
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: This is his pendant right here. It was triggered, and the medical company—there’s a box inside his home. 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.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, this is an important point, that there was audio going on throughout this between the firm and your father.
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: Correct.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And so, much of the activity of the police was caught on this audio.
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: Yes, it was.
AMY GOODMAN: So the box on the wall records everything that’s—
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: It’s actually a box that just sat on his table in the—in his dining room area. It just sat there. And it’s connected to the phone company. So if he does trigger it, as I said, you hear a loud beeping noise. And then the operator, from their central station, will come on, and they say, “Mr. Chamberlain, are you OK? You triggered your alarm. Is everything all right?” And, of course, if they don’t get a response, they then contact the officials.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now you were able to hear this audio because the DA’s office allowed you to hear it? How did you—
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: Yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But it has not yet been released.
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: No, it hasn’t.
AMY GOODMAN: So, continue. You hear your father through the door telling the police he’s OK. This is about 5:00 in the morning?
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: Yes. He’s saying that he’s OK. He’s saying that he did not call for them. 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. 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. So you could see where the door was cracked open. So, once you’ve gotten a visual, and you’ve seen that my father is OK, and he’s telling you that he’s OK, why would you still insist on getting into the apartment? Which is the question that I have. And they weren’t responding to a crime. He was sleeping and accidentally triggered his alarm.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the officers then did what?
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: Ultimately, after using expletives and racial slurs, they broke down the door. You can see on the video from the taser that they fired a taser at him. And I’m assuming that both prongs didn’t go in. He stood about maybe eight to 10 feet away from them with his hands down to his side. And at one point, you hear one of the officers say, “Cut it off.” And it was at that point they shot and killed my father.
AMY GOODMAN: They shot him with beanbag also?
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR.: Well, we didn’t see that. So I can’t—I can’t confirm or deny that.