By Joseph O'Leary
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York City police officer pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a manslaughter charge in the shooting death of an unarmed young man in a Bronx apartment in February.
Richard Haste of the street narcotics enforcement unit entered his plea during an arraignment hearing in New York State Supreme Court in the Bronx. He had surrendered Wednesday morning and was released on bail of $50,000 after his hearing.
Haste was indicted earlier this week for the February 2 shooting death of Ramarley Graham, 18. Several officers who had seen Graham on the street - including Haste - suspected he had a gun because of the suspicious way he moved his hands near his waist, according to a police account of the incident.
Haste and a partner followed Graham to his apartment building and kicked down his apartment door. Haste shot Graham in the chest in a bathroom in the apartment, police said.
"I thought he was going to shoot me so I shot him," Haste said in a statement to investigators that was read aloud by his lawyer, Stuart London, during Wednesday's arraignment. London also said Haste had asked his fellow officers multiple times to confirm reports that Graham had a gun, according to the report.
After the arraignment, a sobbing Francelot Graham, the victim's father, said: "Why did he kill our son?"
"He did nothing to deserve this," Graham said.
Ramarley Graham's mother, Constance Malcolm, asked for justice and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, who attended the hearing with the family, said the case had "many issues here that need to be answered for the rights of the citizens of our city."
Royce Russell, an attorney representing the Grahams, said the case was indicative of larger problems with the NYPD's "abuse of authority."
Several New York police policies - such as the controversial stop-and-frisk program that allows them to question and check people they deem suspicious - have come under fire from critics who say police stop residents on sometimes thin pretense. A commonly cited reason for a stop, according to police data, is a person making "furtive movements."
An investigation of the Graham case also showed that Haste, 30, had not received the proper classroom training required to join the narcotics unit, police said.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly relieved Haste and his sergeant of their guns and badges and placed them on modified duty after an investigation of the shooting.
Graham's shooting occurred just weeks before the Florida shooting death of another unarmed black teen ignited a national debate over gun rights and self-defense laws. In that unrelated case in Florida, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, who contends he acted in self-defense. Zimmerman faces one count of second-degree murder.
(Additional reporting by Chris Francescani; Writing by Dan Burns; Editing by Bill Trott)