Kenneth Chamberlain in his days as a Marine.
On May 3, 2012, Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore held a news conference to announce the decision of the grand jury that investigated the police killing of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. She told the assembled reporters, “The death of Mr. Chamberlain inside his apartment and during the encounter with White Plains police on November 19th was a tragedy on many, many levels. A grand jury heard all the evidence on the use of physical force and deadly physical force by the police in this encounter. The grand jury also heard the evidence of the threatened use of deadly physical force by Mr. Chamberlain during the encounter. After due deliberation on the evidence presented in this matter, the grand jury found that there was no reasonable cause to vote an indictment.”
On the day the decision was reached, White Plains police released both audio and visual recordings
made by police and medical personnel. Those tapes indicate that Chamberlain Sr. sounded disturbed when police knocked on his door and that he held a knife when police began breaking his door down.
Chamberlain Sr.’s medical alert device recorded the following exchange.
LifeAid Operator: This is your help center for LifeAid, Mr. Chamberlain. Do you need help?
Chamberlain Sr.: Yes, this is an emergency! I have the White Plains Police Department banging on my door and I did not call them and I am not sick!
LifeAid Operator: Everything’s all right, sir?
Chamberlain Sr.: No, it’s not all right! I need help! The White Plains Police Department are banging on my door!
The LifeAid Operator repeatedly tells the obviously distressed Chamberlain Sr. to “open your door for the police” who answers that he did not call them. He sounds terrified to go to the door, saying, “I stay right here” and repeating, “I have no reason to talk to them.” The LifeAid Operator tells Chamberlain Sr., “You pressed your medical button.” He repeatedly insists that he did not call them.
The officers continue banging on the door and the LifeAid Operator is heard telling an officer that Chamberlain Sr. “is scared [an officer is] going to bust his door down.”
This next exchange occurs soon after.
Chamberlain Sr.: They’re breaking in my door! They’re breaking in my door!
LifeAid Operator: Mr. Chamberlain, I heard you say they’re breaking in your door. Are you OK?
Chamberlain Sr.: I’m fine!
LifeAid Operator: OK. You pressed your medical button. That’s why the officers are there. Can you go to the door and speak to them?
Chamberlain Sr.: I [inaudible] the door. They’ve got their guns out! They have their guns out!
LifeAid Operator: OK. Do you have a weapon, Mr. Chamberlain?Chamberlain Sr.: I [inaudible] weapons. I am just protecting myself.
A tape recording made of a call to the White Plains police by his sister Carol Mathews shows her anxiously stating, “I don’t want them to shoot him, you know.” The answering officer reassures her, “No, it’s not going to come to that.”
A few minutes later it did.
The New York Daily News
reported, “Many New Yorkers are shaking their heads” after the grand jury’s decision.
Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. told journalists that he spent that night tossing and turning, unable to sleep, because he was so dismayed by the grand jury’s decision.
The Chamberlain family has started a Facebook page entitled “Justice for Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.”
The U. S. District Attorney’s Office announced that it would review the case.
According to a White Plains Patch
article, “The Chamberlain family has also sent a letter to the U. S. Attorney General requesting a criminal investigation.”
Family attorney Mayo Bartlett emphasizes the family’s contention that police responded irresponsibly to a supposed medical emergency and that their inappropriate response caused Chamberlain Sr. to react with distress. “You’ll find Mr. Chamberlain was calm and at this home telling police that he didn’t need assistance before they broke his door down,” Bartlett notes. When the police tried to force their way in, Chamberlain Sr. may have panicked, explaining why he threatened to kill anyone who forced their way into his home.
Bartlett contends, “At that point they should have turned around and left, especially when Life Aid said it wanted to withdraw [the] request for assistance.”
White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong told a CNN reporter that police were justified when they insisted on getting intoChamberlain Sr.’s apartment. “We are obligated as a police department never to walk away from an emergency and we’re not going to,” Chong asserted.
Andrew Quinn is an attorney for Officer Carelli. In a statement to CNN, Quinn said, “We remain confident that the Office of the United States Attorney will conduct a thorough, unbiased and complete investigation and will undoubtedly reach the same conclusion as the Westchester County Grand Jury: that Officer Carelli’s actions, while tragic in result, were necessary to save the life of his fellow officer.”