A police officer was convicted yesterday of criminally negligent homicide in the beating death of a suspect in a South Bronx station house, the first conviction on record in a slaying by an on-duty New York City police officer.
The defendant, Officer Thomas Ryan, faces up to four years in prison on the conviction, which carries the lightest penalty of four possible verdicts by the jury, short of acquittal.
The Ryan case, in which the officer is white and the suspect was Puerto Rican, was one of a number in recent years to raise the issue of alleged fatal police brutality by white officers against black or Hispanic people, and the first of those to result in a conviction.
In 1974, Officer Thomas J. Shea was acquitted by an all-white jury in the death of a 10-year-old black boy, Clifford Glover, after testifying that he thought the boy had a gun. The acquittal stirred a public outcry and a night of street disturbances in the dead boy’s community in Jamica, Queens. Office Shea was eventually dismissed from the Police Department.
Officer Shea was only the second officer to be tried for murder committed while on duty. In 1924, Robert F McAllister was acquitted of charges that he shot and killed 24-year-old Vincent Fighera near 115th Street and Morningside Avenue.
Another officer was acquitted last February, also by an all-white jury, in the fatal shooting of John Brabham, a 22-year-old black man who was a student at Kingsborough Community College. Officer Walker, too, testified that he though his victim had a gun, but other officers testified that Officer Walker customarily kept a hand a cap pistol similar to one found near Mr. Grabham’s body.
Officers Shea, Walker and Ryan were all represented by the same lawyer.
In the most recent incident, Officer Robert Torsney is awaiting tryial for the murder of 15-year-old Randolph Evans, a black youth who was shot to death at point blank range outside his Brooklyn home last Thanksgiving night. No physical confrontation or verbal exchange has been suggested in eyewitness accounts by police officers or civilians.
In Officer Ryan’s trial several officers said that they had previously lied under oath to protect a fellow officer. Officer Ryan insisted from the witness stand that it was two of the officers who testified against him who had administered the fatal blows. In all, seven officers testified against Officer Ryan during the trial. All seven admitted having lied in earlier statements about the incident.
NYT Judith Cummings 4/19/77