A Tale of Two Cities: When Cops and Civilians Are Murdered

May 5, 2015 | Liam Mathews

On May 4th, there were two huge, tragic, and conflicting stories in New York City. One was the death of Officer Brian Moore, who was shot in the head in the line of duty on Saturday and succumbed to his injuries on Monday. The other was the non-indictment of Willie Groomes, the retired corrections officer who shot and killed Gilbert Drogheo, an unarmed 32-year-old man, in a Brooklyn subway station on March 10. Both deaths are crimes and tragedies, but only one has been treated as such by the legal system and the media. While Officer Moore is being (not unjustly) lionized, Drogheo’s death is dismissed as unimportant. In New York City, blue lives matter more.

Willie Groomes was caught on video pursuing, hitting, and fatally shooting Gilbert Drogheo in Brooklyn’s Borough Hall station. Drogheo and his co-worker, Joscelyn Evering, had been harassing Groomes on the train, according to witnesses. The New York Daily News reported that Groomes drew his gun, and they all got off at Borough Hall. As seen in the video of the shooting, Drogheo began to flee the scene, going up the stairs away from Groomes, who was still on the platform. But Groomes, who at that point was clearly out of present danger, slowly and deliberately followed Drogheo up the stairs and, upon reaching him, punched him. They then wrestled, and then Groomes shot Drogheo.

In his examination of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson’s failure to indict Groomes, Gawker’s Andy Cush runs down the legal qualifications that Groomes should have had to meet to not be indicted. The use of deadly force by a civilian is permitted only when defending against “imminent use of deadly physical force,” or when it is necessary to stop a person who has committed or is in the midst of committing a violent crime such as murder or “forcible rape.”

Using these criteria, nothing indicates that Groomes acted legally in shooting Drogheo. He was licensed to carry the handgun he used to kill Drogheo, but beyond that, he used excessive force in making a citizen’s arrest, was not facing an imminent threat of deadly force, and was not detaining someone who had just committed a violent criminal act. So why wasn’t he indicted, or even arrested at the scene? In fact, the only person arrested and charged was Joscelyn Evering.

Thompson’s explanation for the non-indictment is odd. “Based on interviews of multiple eyewitnesses to the events leading up to the shooting, our review of videotapes of the shooting itself and other evidence, I have decided not to put this case into the grand jury and will not bring criminal charges against Mr. Groomes,” he said in a statement. “While the death of this young man was indeed tragic, we cannot prove any charge of homicide beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Why was this not ruled a homicide? The answer, of course, is that Groomes used to be a corrections officer. When he killed Drogheo, he was a civilian, but he was treated the way a cop gets treated when he or she kills someone on the job. He retired in 1993, but 22 years ago is apparently still recent enough to be eligible for a cop’s preferential treatment under the law. Cops frequently don’t get indicted when they kill people, and this indicates retired corrections officers don’t, either.

Gilbert Drogheo’s mother, Linda Rodriguez, who ANIMAL could not reach for comment, told DNAinfo:

“‘I watched a video of my son being shot and killed and they tell me there was not crime committed? There was no evidence? I watched my son die on a video. What evidence do they want?’ said Linda Rodriguez, 50.

She said the Brooklyn DA ‘could have presented the case in front of a grand jury. He did not even do that. Where is the fairness? This is not justice,’ continued Rodriguez, who said she had been calling the DA’s office every day to see if there was any updates on the case.

‘They gave (Groomes) a courtesy pass, from badge to badge,’ she said. ‘So is (the DA) trying to tell me that it is okay for anybody that has served the law, anyone of them who is retired with a gun permit, to shoot somebody?'”

Joscelyn Evering’s attorney Ellen Edwards told ANIMAL, “As a resident of Brooklyn, I don’t feel safer by [Thompson’s] decision. As a person who uses that train station, he has a different definition of public safety than I do.”

Meanwhile, Queens prosecutors are putting the case against Demetrius Blackwell — the man who killed Officer Moore — in front of a grand jury on Tuesday and are seeking a first-degree murder charge.

Officer Moore was just 25, and his death is a senseless tragedy. I cannot imagine the pain Officer Moore’s family is in right now, and I hope that they receive closure and justice for their loss. But Drogheo’s family deserves closure and justice, too. He may not have been a cop and he may have been doing something wrong, but neither of those things mean he deserved to die; or that his death wasn’t a homicide, or that his killer should be free to enact vigilante justice again simply because he once found himself on the right side on the badge.

“There are people with guns, on both sides of the fence, it has to stop some place,” Edwards said. “It’s equally sad for the police officer who got killed,” she said talking about Moore. “I feel saddened. Every life has value. Killing, I don’t care who does it, is a crime. Period.”

(Image: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)