Kelly Absolves Officers in Fatal Harlem Chase; De Blasio Shows Interest

Sister Mary Celine Graham died for $23 and a Blackberry.

That’s what armed thieves are said to have stolen from a young Columbia alum prior to being pulled over by police in Central Harlem, and before one of them sped south on Lenox Avenue in the minivan that soon hit another vehicle and spun into Graham, her aide, and a construction worker Tuesday morning.

amd_sister_graham.jpgPhoto via Daily News

Both suspects — original reports said there were three — have been caught. The man allegedly behind the wheel of the minivan at the time of the collision, 20-year-old Dyson Williams, has been charged with murder.

Responding to accounts that NYPD was chasing Williams down pedestrian-packed streets at the time of the crash, which also injured two people in another vehicle, Commissioner Ray Kelly claims no departmental rules were broken. The Times reports:

Witnesses said they saw an unmarked police car about a block behind, its lights flashing and its siren blaring.

But the police account, pieced together from radio transmissions and reports, makes clear that responding officers did not have time to give chase, and that the unmarked police car began its pursuit only two blocks before the Chrysler crashed.

"Police cars did go south behind the car, but they were at least a block away," Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said. "I wouldn’t consider that a close pursuit. I would consider it appropriate police tactics. It was an unfortunate series of events that caused a nun to lose her life."

So for Ray Kelly, and the Times, this case appears to be closed. However, on his Twitter feed yesterday Public Advocate Bill de Blasio indicated that he intends to look into the recent rash of NYPD-involved crashes. A call to de Blasio’s office confirmed same.

Even if one accepts the department’s version of this latest catastrophe as the final word, it’s clear that an examination of NYPD pursuit policy (if not the propensity for drunk driving among off-duty cops) is overdue. Here’s hoping that effort bears fruit before more New Yorkers are killed and maimed for nothing.

  • Thank you Brad for pursuing this series of deaths and injuries caused by unnecessary NYPD pursuits. This is excellent journalism on a critical issue we won’t get from the mainstream media.

    While police officers should have the ability to pursue in extreme circumstances, this was not such a case; nothing justified a departure from the standing policy of favoring the safety of the public over the apprehension of fleeing suspects. Whether it was a “close chase” or a “follow,” Kelly himself describes it as a “pursuit” scenario with sirens and lights flashing. Even if its true that the pursuit only lasted two blocks, and that the cops were a block or more behind the suspects, common sense tells us that this pursuit at least contributed to the fatal collision.

    But I must add that IMO the gratuitous dig at the drunk off duty cops at the end doesn’t belong there; it detracts from an otherwise great post.

  • Thanks BO. The off-duty crash mention was included in all sincerity. It is a separate issue, but an important one that sorely needs attention, and one that we have also covered with some consistency.

  • Wow, Murder? Not manslaughter? So the prosecutors is going to argue that the guys in that car intentionally set out to kill that nun that day for some reason? So if you are fleeing from the police its murder and if you are just inattentive or unlicensed it’s “no charges filed”? Seems to be a pretty wide gap here.

  • J. Mork

    Another pointless police chase reported:

    (no innocent injuries this time, it seems)


Harlem NYPD Chase Ends in Another Pedestrian Death

Photo: 1010 WINS An elderly woman was killed and at least two other bystanders were injured when suspects fleeing police slammed into another vehicle in Harlem this morning. According to reports from City Room, 1010 WINS and WCBS, officers had pulled over a minivan at Lenox Avenue and W. 141st Street in connection with a […]

Why Must a Driver Be Drunk or Fleeing Cops to Be Prosecuted for Killing?

On Tuesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced the sentencing of Dyson Williams, the driver who killed Mary Celine Graham while attempting to evade police. On June 22, 2010, police investigating a string of gunpoint robberies stopped a minivan occupied by Williams and William Robbins near W. 142nd Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, according to […]