Shereese Francis Hearing – January 23, 2021, 10 am Eastern

Transcript: Hearing on the Case of Shereese Francis

SPEAKERS

  • Rapporteur Horace Campbell
  • Commissioner Prof. Rashida Manjoo
  • Commissioner Mr. Bert Samuels
  • Steve Vaccaro, attorney for the Francis family

Horace Campbell  00:00

Good morning. Today is January 23. Welcome to the hearings of the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence against People of African Descent in the United States. These hearings are a process by which witnesses can present accounts of the unjustified killings and maimings of Black individuals by police officers in the United States, before an international panel of human rights experts. We know begin hearing the case of Shereese Francis. My name is Horace Campbell. I’m the rapporteur for this hearing. Presiding over this hearing is Commissioner Rashida Manjoo of South Africa and Commissioner Bert Samuels of Jamaica. The first witness for this hearing is Steve Vaccaro. There will be 50 minutes for this hearing. The witness will testify followed by a period of questions from commissioners. I will call it time at the 30 minute mark. And at the 45 minute mark. Please excuse my interruptions. Commissioners, Manjoo and Samuels, I now present to you the first witness, Attorney, Steve Vaccaro.

Steve Vaccaro  01:46

Good morning, and thank you.

Horace Campbell  01:50

I’m sorry, attorney, Please, Mr. Vaccaro, please confirm your name.

Steve Vaccaro  01:58

My name is Steve Vaccaro.

Horace Campbell  02:01

Do you promise that your testimony in the Commission of Inquiry will be true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Steve Vaccaro  02:08

I promise and so affirm.

Horace Campbell  02:11

You may begin.

Steve Vaccaro  02:13

Thank you very much, Rapporteur Campbell, and thank you for convening these hearings, because they’re so important and it’s such an overlooked and neglected issue. I was also glad to hear that the commissioner from Jamaica is participating. And I just want to presenting this incident that this untimely death of Shereese Francis to make a note that Shereese’s family were from Jamaica and emigrated to the United States in 1989. And I’m going to — I think it’s important to know who you’re dealing with. So this is Shereese. And she was lovely young woman at age 30 when she was killed by the New York City police officers who responded to her home. Here is her family, her father George, her sister Shauna, and her mother Eleene at a demonstration held outside of One Police Plaza shortly after Shereese’s death to try to draw public attention to what had happened.

So I’ll give you an overview of this incident of March 15 of 2012. Just need to get some things. Okay. So Shereese was 30 years old. At age 20, she had been diagnosed with serious and persistent mental illness. And you will find, as I go over the evidence in this case, that this case raises some unique issues concerning racist police violence in the context of individuals who are living with mental illness like Shereese. Shereese had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. But contrary to many of the stereotypes that are circulated. She had no history of violence. She had never been arrested. We had to go through approximately 10 years of mental health records for Shereese in the context of litigating her case against the NYPD, that claimed that she was violent, she initiated the violence and of course, she was to blame for her own death. And none of those medical records going back all of those years did we find any evidence of any violent behavior by Shereese. But on the evening of March 15 2012, a night that followed approximately a month and a half of Shereese not taking medications that had been prescribed for her use to help her control her mental illness and its symptoms. Shereese became upset with her mother, they had a disagreement and misunderstanding and Shereese was, frankly, delusional in that she believed her mother had stolen her makeup and hid it from her and Shereese was angry about that. She had words with her mother.

Shereese lived with her mother. She actually worked with her mother. The family operated, still operate, preschool early childhood programming and classes for children. And, but that night at home, Shereese had this disagreement with her mother. She had been refusing to take her medication, and this is something that had happened previously, and her family in the past when she was non compliant with her medication had summoned an ambulance. Shereese had gone to the hospital on at least a couple of prior occasions over the years when she was living with mental illness. And she had been, she had received the care necessary to bring her back into medication compliance. She had been released from the hospital after a stay ranging from a few days to up to a couple of weeks, I believe, and then come home and resumed her normal routine. She was living with mental illness and without violence, but on that night of March 15 2012, she did have this disagreement with her mother and she pulled her hair. She pulled her mother’s hair. And this led led her mother to be concerned that Shereese was not taking her medication and her behavior was becoming something that they didn’t expect from her something that they had never seen before in her. So as they had done on prior occasions, they call 311, which is the phone number in New York City we would use to summon to get information or help from the government but not to summon a law enforcement response necessarily. However, the the 311 operator connected them to a 911 operator, which is the number you call when there is a need for police or other emergency personnel.

And that night a group of four police officers responded to the Francis home after Shauna had called and explained that they needed an ambulance to bring Shereese to the hospital. And within a half an hour of the police arriving at the Francis home. Shereese was dead. Shereese was dead from compression, asphyxia, as a result of those police officers putting her face down in her mother’s bed to handcuff her after confronting her, chasing her, agitating her and kneeling on her back to the point where she could not breathe, beating her repeatedly to get her to submit to the handcuffing. And then ultimately, she died. So what happened in that half an hour? What I actually want to do before talking about what happened is to show you that in fact we have a set of protocols, practices that the police are supposed to use when they’re responding to a person in emotional distress. The police have a very ugly term that they use for this is called an EDP. So-called EDP stands for emotionally disturbed person. And in this case, the police completely ignored their own rules for how to handle a so called EDP call, which is what the four police who responded to the Francis home on that night thought that they were doing. And here is one of the documents that we’re producing our litigation against the NYPD after Shereese’s death: Police students’ guide to policing the emotionally disturbed, and this six page document is actually a very enlightened document that was prepared by mental health professionals who were part of an effort to train the police to understand the issues presented by mental illness and the manner in which mental illness should factor into how they conduct themselves as police officers, how they deal with persons in emotional crisis.

And, in fact, I learned about Shereese’s death and came to represent the family because one of, an activist for the cause of helping remove stigma and improve conditions for the mentally ill, you know, he was involved in actually writing this guide and teaching it to the police officers. And in the course of working on this case, he explained to me that he would go in to teach the police what is in this policing the emotionally disturbed guide that he had helped write. And he said that the trainings were all held after the police officers had come off a night shift. And that almost to the last one, they were all sleeping and snoring. While mental health professionals tried to teach them how to, in the words of this guy, police the emotionally disturbed. But, but, if only those officers had been awake, they might have learned certain things they might have learned that you must recognize most EDP calls turn out to involve people who are neither a danger to themselves or others. That was the case with Shereese. Mental illness is not a major driver of violent crime. But police are called to respond to a large number of cases that are dangerous or that if improperly handled could quickly become dangerous. And how is it that this guy tells the police not to have those encounters, escalate those encounters 40 times a day, their EDP calls with the police. Apparently at the time this was written, which is obviously now probably 10 years old or more, 155 times a day the police respond and it turns out to be a call of someone who’s in emotional crisis. So this is a very broad problem that the case of Shereese Francis very tragically brings to light of police being thrust to the fore to handle the management of people in emotional crisis. And they don’t have the adequate training to do it.

What the police are told in this guide is, never use force or threat of force against an EDP. That’s a person, it’s a group of initials they use to dehumanize and objectify a person. Unless there’s no other way to protect human life against imminent danger. Volatile situations require backup assistance. supervisors are required to respond to all EDP calls we learn in this guide. If the supervisor is not on the scene and the EDP is unarmed, non violent, EDP can be taken into custody and never confine EDPs or anyone else in a facedown prone position for longer than it takes to handcuff them. What causes mental illness, and here’s some background information for a couple of paragraphs. This isn’t a lot but it’s enough to go on along with other portions of the police training materials. What we learn is that you’re supposed to keep at least 20 feet away from a person who is in emotional crisis and is suspected of potentially being able to become violent, a danger to themselves or others, that you should never use force unless there’s an imminent threat of violence to the person or others. In the absence of a supervisor, don’t put a person who’s mentally ill face down while trying to subdue them. Elsewhere you learn, don’t confront them if they’re delusional in their delusions, but rather try to just keep them as calm as possible until trained mental health professionals can come and help manage the situation. That is the guidance that the officers receive in this police students guide. And that is exactly what these police officers did not do.

Okay, they came into the Francis home. And they immediately went to where Shereese was in her room alone. And they said you’re coming with us. And she just basically started repeating back to them everything they would say, throwing in some additional things that should have made clear to those officers that Shereese was suffering from delusions because of mental illness. They said Shereese, you have to come with us and she said, I’m going to call the cops on you. You know her sister was there. Her mother was there. They heard this. Police said we are the cops, Shereese, and you’re coming with us. They challenged her. They cornered her. And she tried to get out of that situation by walking past them. She walked past them, out of her room and into another portion of the home. And the police officers called, Don’t let her get away. And a chase ensued through her home where the police got her onto her mother’s bed and started to handcuff her they you know, and then it degenerated into a very hostile situation. They were screaming yelling curses. Give me your effing hand. You’re coming with us. Shereese’s sister described a scenario where the officers were all on the bed around Shereese kneeling on her and this is very important because you know a bed is a soft surface. So if you’re being fac, you know put face down on a bed, it is much harder for you to breathe because there is compression in effect coming from the springs of the bed below you as well as from the officers, one of whom was on top of her straddling her with both legs and the other three of whom had their knees on her back. Another very important point here, Shereese was overweight, perhaps obese. It is a very common side effect if you take medication for an illness like schizophrenia to to put on weight to become overweight or obese. It is a known side effect of many psychotropic medications. It was one of the reasons why Shereese, according to her family, resisted taking her medications because she didn’t want to put on weight. Like any person, you know any young adult. They didn’t like this encumbrance that came as a side effect from the psychotropic medication. And it has been shown that persons who are obese are much more susceptible to death by compression asphyxia when they are being restrained face down with police officers leaning on top of them on their back.

And I have done a search just in reported decisions from United States jurisdictions. And there are many, many cases all you need to do is search the term compression asphyxia. And you will find many cases enough cases that will convince you that there is likely not, you know, that there is a problem here, that there is a problem with police officers handcuffing persons who are obese facedown, and it’s killing them. And secondly, that probably it’s because that is a technique that is specifically taught to officers, that is a way of subduing people. And what is not taught to the officers is the dangers of killing a person who you’re trying to subdue. And of course, this takes place often in the context of some kind of suspected criminal activity. And I think the case of Eric Garner that came up several years afterwards is very significant in this regard, because the officers were kneeling right on his back in the same way they were kneeling on Shereese Francis. And, and, Eric Garner, you know, to my eye, I’m just a person looking at the video, but he appeared to be overweight as well. And I think that the failure to teach police officers that this restraint technique is deadly, particularly with people who are obese, is a major lesson that should be learned and I’m afraid has not been learned. Even now after the killing of George Floyd, you know, nine years later or eight years later, when we are trying to have an anti chokehold bill as it’s called, passed in New York State. There is a fight with the police union saying well, anti chokehold is one thing, you can say officers are allowed to put their hands on the neck or windpipe. But you can’t say, and police spokespeople, and people opposing reform legislation, have specifically said you have to take out of this anti chokehold bill the broad language that says police officers are not allowed in any way to obstruct the breathing of a criminal suspect because this is a widespread technique. And, you know, I believe that more than any chokehold, that this technique has led to more deaths, you know, by police officers, whether they’re dealing with criminal suspects or persons in emotional crisis, and there is an unfortunate focus on this term chokehold because it’s a very effective way of describing police cutting off someone’s breath. It is less obvious or apparent that kneeling on the back of someone would cause them to suffocate. But with people who are overweight or obese, it is a documented fact.

So, um the police were on the bed with Shereese and and she was struggling with them. And she did not want to be handcuffed. She said, I’m going to call the police on you. So she was clearly delusional and the sergeant was called, the supervisor under the protocol. He was supposed to be responsible. The sergeant never showed up and the emergency services unit or ESU, which was supposed to be there for this use of force for an EDP call, never showed up until it was too late. And Shereese had stopped breathing by the time they put the cuffs on and when they finally got them on and pulled back from Shereese, she was limping, she fell off the bed to the floor. It was only at that point that the police allowed. emergency medical technicians who had since responded to the scene to come in and attempt to resuscitate her. Once they realize that she was not breathing, the police ordered the Francis family out of the house. They didn’t tell them why. But they proceeded to spend another hour with with the Francis family exiled from their own home, trying to resuscitate Shereese Francis, who frankly was already gone. And when they took her out, they wheeled her out and she was covered up and her family wanted desperately to see how she was, they hadn’t seen her, they had been told to wait outside by the police. And one family member was able to touch her arm as they wheeled her out and said she was cold. So they took her to the hospital. And she was of course, finally pronounced dead. And then, you know, I’m sure even before she was taken to the hospital, the process of trying to cover up this death began amongst the officers who caused it. And they began cooking up a story about how Shereese had caused this. And what I’d like to show now is the report that was issued by a supervisor regarding what happened, and it blamed everything on Shereese.

It’s not where it should have been. So I’m just going to summarize: The police said that Shereese lunged at them. This was their interpretation of what had happened. Oh, here it is. This is the report of the commanding officer for Internal Affairs Bureau that was called in to analyze what happened. They met the subject who was reacting in aggressive combative manner, the officer struggled with her and after a brief time placed her in handcuffs. Immediately after being secured by the officer she went into cardiac arrest and subsequently died at Jamaica hospital. Family members of the scene reported she had stopped taking her medication, it led to erratic behavior. The doctor at the hospital reported no indication of trauma to Francis’s body. And then they go on they talk about the investigation. It took four officers to restrain her. They talked to the officers, one of the officers. They said she was like a football player. And it was very hard to restrain her. They needed four of them on the bed in order to do that. You know, she was very strong. One of the officers was six foot five inches tall and weighed 260 pounds and he said he had a hard time getting control of her due to her strength. Immediately after she was handcuffed, she became unresponsive. He didn’t see any officer obstruct her breathing. You know so this was the story. And then what happened is that we went on behalf of the family to try to get more information. We wanted to know what’s going on; that report wasn’t issued to us. But there were reports coming out in the press that tracked exactly that language from the Internal Affairs Bureau coming out a week after her death, when we were out there in front of One Police Plaza. So we launched a separate litigation under what’s called the Freedom of Information law, a law that requires that requires government to come forth with any documents they have that are not otherwise privileged or exempt from production. It’s it’s an openness in government law. And so before we even initiated any lawsuit against the NYPD or participated in meetings with the district attorney over possible prosecution of these officers, we first launched a lawsuit just to get the facts to find out what’s going on. It was a petition under the Freedom of Information law. And our big exhibit there was this report in the in the press, that that tracks the language of the Internal Affairs Bureau and said that Shereese was enormous and violent and agitated and took four officers to control and there were no signs of trauma, and that she hadn’t been taking your medication and that she had pulled her mother’s hair. So all of these things that the police, this information they gathered from the Francis family, the night of the incident, while they were incredibly traumatized over the death of Shereese, were then being published from quote unquote, “anonymous police sources.” And we went with our freedom of information lawsuit, and we said, The police have these records. Tell us where this information is coming from, because this is where we’re hearing this narrative.

And this was, these were our papers in the petition. And we actually attached this Wall StreetJournal article: Shereese Francis, the family of Shereese Francis, who was 29, I guess she was just about to turn 30. Here’s all these details. The family told them. Police arrived at 1020. They were told by Shereese’s mother this and that and had pulled her hair, all these intimate details. The arriving officers tried to talk Ms. Francis into going to the hospital, she began arguing and eventually lunged at the officers. And then, you know, she was on the ground and still struggling with the police when the EMTs came. So now the EMTs are saying she was still struggling with the police when they came. That was not the timeline that was eventually proven. You know, and the whole thing is sourced to unnamed and unidentified police sources. And we said to the judge in our freedom of information lawsuit, if the police have these records and information of their summaries to give to the press, there’s nothing confidential about this. We want at least as much information as the press had. And NYPD has provided more information about Shereese’s death to the press than to her parents. That was our claim right there on the front page asking the court for relief. And basically, the the judge said no. You know, in a very simple one page order, the judge said NYPD claims that they’re privileged and they’re not waived because they didn’t even give an answer. No actual police sources been identified. So if we can’t say in our lawsuit, give us the information that was shared with the press, which police officers leaked into the press, and then the courts aren’t going to step in and require the police to tell us what information they have until later on in the litigation.

And then eventually, you know, what, what came out in the litigation were the facts, including, you know, Office of Chief Medical Examiner report, you know, you heard in the Wall Street Journal and in the Internal Affairs Bureau investigation that there were no signs of trauma. But in fact, there were signs of trauma. You know, there were extensive trauma, bruising all over her upper body. They beat her savagely into submission before finally handcuffing her and her losing her breath and dying. There were no fractures. But, but they were yelling, screaming and beating her in her mother’s bed face down as they were doing this. And you can only imagine the terror that she must have experienced as someone who was suffering from delusions and mental illness being being suffocated to death by these officers in her mother’s home. So, um, you know, I have just a few points that I want to make about this when we brought our lawsuit, you know, you know, so the district attorney never did anything, the district attorney’s office was just like, this is a, this is a crazy person, you know, they didn’t use that language. But they didn’t take seriously the idea that Shereese wasn’t at fault or the police were blameless. And as far as we know, there was never any attempt to discipline the police officers who were involved who did this.

When we brought our claim not only under Section 1983, which is the sort of general or generic statute for enforcing a federal right to be free from a deprivation of life or liberty under color of state law, we also brought a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act on the grounds that there had not been an adequate accommodation to Shereese’s disability of mental illness. And that was a promising area at the time, and it’s continued to develop. I knew it from other work that I had done in the law enforcement area and concerning that, the police have an obligation to accommodate a mental illness, if they’re bringing someone in to prison, for example, arresting them and the person needs a wheelchair. No one would question that the police have to not drag the person but but give them a wheelchair or find some other means of safely carrying them so that they’re not injured and treated with some minimum level of dignity, when they’re processing them through the criminal justice system. All the more so in a case like this, where there was no issue of violation of law, there was no such suspicion of a crime. This was just attempting to render aid for a person in emotional mental health crisis. And they have to accommodate them. And in fact, that is exactly what the NYPD procedures require that they do. And the police officers rushed the encounter, because they just, you know, to all appearances, according to Shereese’s family, they just wanted to get out of there. They wanted to do it quickly. They went to Shereese as you’re coming with us to the hospital. No, I’m calling the cops on you. We are the cops and you’re coming with us or else no, I’m, I’m going somewhere else. Or he says she leaves, the police officers and they say Don’t let her get away. And then there’s a chase. I mean, already, within a few minutes, this is degenerated into a very dangerous, escalated situation is my first. Second –

Horace Campbell  33:16

I’m just giving notice that we’ve passed the 30 minute point.

Steve Vaccaro  33:20

Thank you.

Horace Campbell  33:21

Please continue.

Steve Vaccaro  33:22

Okay, thanks. I’m trying to keep my eye on the time because there are many, many lessons I think that we can learn from Shereese’s case. And I just want to touch on some of them and answer any questions that any of the commissioners have. You know, so the rules weren’t followed by these police officers. There was no supervisor on the scene. There were no specially trained, specially trained persons with with familiarity with mental illness or mental health issues on the scene. And there was a forced confrontation that resulted in Teresa’s death. And, you know, one of the things that I think jumps out in this case, besides the fact that that we shouldn’t have police officers doing this kind of work, we have a movement now. Back then, in 2012, when we tried to bring public attention to this, there was you know, there had been a shooting in a case called Sean Bell. There had been other cases where it was recognized that police were using unnecessary and unlawful force against persons of African descent in their policing work. And there was a political movement at that time of which I was a part. Many people were a part that were trying to reform the NYPD, and we elected a mayor here in New York City, whose number one point in his platform was that he was going to end unnecessary, oppressive, ubiquitous policing through the stop and frisk program of his predecessor, and that there was going to be a more respectful form of policing the comported with the human rights of the people who were being policed. And, you know, our mayor, unfortunately, even though he was elected on that platform, he was quickly cowed by the police force in New York City, which I have often said, as someone who’s asked to speak on these issues outside of the context of any particular lawsuit, that we have no civilian control of the police here in New York City.

The police are not under the mayor’s control. They do as they wish. And while they have a certain set of parameters that they follow to avoid, you know, being called out in the media and having a major reform done on their police department, they just go on and do what they want. And, you know, you see in this case that the media stepped in and took these anonymously sourced reports from the police that spun it as all Shereese’s fault. You saw a judge of the Supreme Court Milton Tingling, refusing to allow us to find out where those lies were being manufactured at NYPD in the early stages of the investigation. You saw eventually, over a period of months, us getting the Office of Chief Medical Examiner autopsy report that showed that that original description of what had happened that there were no signs of trauma on Shereese’s body, that’s not true at all. You saw, you know, just a cover up. And this is the way that the police are able to continue doing what they do here in New York City and this resurgent movement for police accountability that we see following the killing of George Floyd last summer, you know, has gone under the name defund the police. And you know, that has caused some controversy. It’s not a question of defunding the police. But it’s a question of transitioning certain tasks, and in particular management of people in mental health crisis, away from the police who do not have the training, or the expertise or the temperament in most cases, to be able to handle these situations and let qualified professionals do it with proper funding, we need to fund more our mental health providers. Because there is no reason why Shereese had to die. The only reason was because of the impatience of the police. The lack of training of the police. They had the training materials, but they didn’t follow them. The laziness of the police, the sergeant who was summoned to the scene but didn’t show up because he was just somewhere else.

And and a failure on the part of our society to to say that we need to provide the funding for mental health treatment and not just throw it on to the police because this is a an aspect of police work that police do not relish. And it only makes things worse, when that’s who you’re sending to assist someone who’s in mental health crisis. And ultimately, the the Francis family decided to resolve the lawsuit against the NYPD for a settlement of a substantial sum of money. The political leaders of New York City are more willing to pay out large sums to fix the problems and the deaths and the destruction that the police force of New York City leaves behind them, then they are willing to muster the political will necessary to reform the police department. And this has caused a human rights crisis, an ongoing human rights crisis in New York City, which is a city that’s considered one of the generally speaking one of the most left or liberal bastions of the United States that always votes Democratic. But right here in New York City, we have a very serious problem with our police force violating the human rights of people of African descent and then when you have this intersectionality with mental health and mental illness issues, it’s already you know, a much bigger problem. It is a volatile mix that quickly becomes deadly in the hands of these poorly trained, impatient and insensitive police officers when there’s a racial dynamic, mental health dynamic, all thrown in together. As I said, this restraint technique, I would emphasize is an absolutely dangerous deadly technique. And it is being taught to police officers as the right way to do it, I think not only in New York City, but across the country. And I’ll just stop there. And I’d be happy to answer any questions.

Horace Campbell  40:24

Thank you very much.

Rashida Manjoo  40:31

Thank you, Mr. Vaccaro. Uh, while we wait, but I can see that I’m assuming that Bert’s still online. I thank you very much for that comprehensive overview, as well as for the documents that we received this morning. There are a couple of things that I saw in that document. [Interference] That. doesn’t sound good. Okay. That was the New York Police. Sorry, I could you mute yourself, please. Mr. Prude. While we finished with Mr. Vaccaro. Thanks, sir. There was a reference made to the Internal Affairs Bureau officials coming to the house before Miss Francis was taken to the hospital. Is that normal? Because, you know, we’ve been listening to testimonies. And it seems as if internal affairs gets involved at a later stage, is it normal for them to come to the family? Before she was taken to the hospital, they interviewed and recorded the interviews with family members. And what are the implications of that was, you know, I’m trying to see if there’s any inferences that can be drawn by this practice?

Steve Vaccaro  42:10

Sure. I mean, that’s a good question. I have represented the families or estates of number of individuals who have been killed by NYPD. And in fact, as soon as there is a death associated with NYPD activity, the Internal Affairs Bureau very quickly is notified and gets involved and starts to take statements. And it is clear that this is not an independent investigation that they’re conducting. But it is very much aligned with the institutional interests of the police force. And it is designed to elicit from people who are in, you know, people who don’t have their own lawyer, people who don’t have, you know, aren’t in a position to really be able to deal with these seasoned experienced interrogators. I mean, the Internal Affairs Bureau, these are specialists in interrogation because they’re trained to interrogate fellow police officers, right. So these guys are very good at getting the information out of people that they want. And when you read the transcripts of their investigations, you see, they’re also good at getting people to say things that they don’t even mean. And they can very quickly put together a narrative about what happened and then leak it to the press. So that there’s this full blown story about how it’s all the victim’s fault that’s out there in the press, while the family of the victim isn’t getting any information, what they’re being told, when they finally go out and get a lawyer like me, and they say, We want some information about what happened. You threw us out of our own house where you were supposedly, you know, getting Shereese to the hospital, and we find out she’s dead. You know, they’re in no position to be able to tell that story and and the Internal Affairs Bureau from what I’ve seen is, is much more geared towards protecting the institutional interests and posture and reputation and liability of the police department than it is in trying to get at the facts of the truth and having some sort of a an independent neutral investigation of misconduct by the police.

Horace Campbell  44:38

We passed the 45 minute mark, just to let you know.

Bert Samuels  44:42

Attorney, I wish to commend you for your great work. And just a comment that my countrywoman came to the United States with her daughter and called the police. She invited the police into her house, and all of this seemed to have just gone south. However, in the court papers, I noticed that the police had asked the ESU and you tell me that stands for, and the BLS to stay away when they came to intervene? Could you expand on the purpose of the ESU, and the BLS, who were told by the police to stand back while this was happening?

Steve Vaccaro  45:29

Sure. And just before I do, I’ll quickly say that Shereese’s family isn’t here to give an impact statement. But yes, you’ve touched on a very important point, how devastating to Shereese’s sister and mother that they are the ones who called, the police were summoned, made this call for help and allowed the police into their home, only to have the police kill Shereese instead of helping her and getting her to the hospital. And, and that is an absolutely terrible impact. And that is a lesson to any parent of a child who has mental illness who’s acting out that tough decision about whether and when or if to summon the police and the fact that you might lose your child if you do. With respect to BLS, and ESU. BLS stands for basic life support. There are two types of ambulance units that will respond to a medical emergency — BLS, and ALS has advanced life support, advanced life support and usually basic life support response first, unless it’s a very, very serious trauma and someone’s bleeding uncontrolled. So saying BLS, we’re told to stay away is the police told the ambulance personnel, you know, stay away from here we are putting handcuffs on her. We don’t want you around. Interestingly, in the fake narratives that were put out in the media after this incident, police cited statements of unnamed emergency medical technicians, the BLS personnel that oh, you know, the the police, that she was still struggling against the police. They weren’t even there to see the struggle. So how can the emergency medical technicians, you know, buttress the police false account, but that’s how they used them.

ESU is Emergency Services Unit. It is a specialized unit of NYPD that is supposed to be summoned every time there’s a so called EDP call. The ESU has specialized equipment for restraining people in a way that’s safe, and is supposed to be operated by officers who have a higher degree of training, according to the protocol. But what you find from these calls is that the ESU unit just doesn’t show up. I mean, the officers knew this was an EDP call. They knew there was supposed to be a sergeant on site before the use of force, a supervisor, they knew they’re supposed to be ESU. There. But those entities didn’t respond, you know, fast enough for those police officers. Those police officers did not want to spend more than 10 or 15 minutes at the house taking care of this. And in some ways, that is heartbreakingly, the root of what happened here is they just just weren’t willing to wait. And of course, the response that that Sergeant, who it turns out, never was going to show up, even though he was summoned. And the protocol said he had to show up, he had other other fish to fry. I’m not going to get into that. But he was just off doing his own thing. And the ESU commonly doesn’t show up for 15, 30, 45 minutes, an hour on these EDP calls and the officers who are the first ones to respond., just sort of assume ESU isn’t going to show up, assume that the protocol isn’t going to be followed. So they don’t follow it either. So you have these nice policies written down about the role of the EMTs, the role of the ESU, the role of the supervisor, everybody wait until we have the right resources in place when we’re dealing with a person in emotional crisis. But that doesn’t happen.

Rashida Manjoo  49:29

Mr. Vaccaro, just following up on the ESU. I mean, is there any — the fact that they just don’t, you know, come to when these calls come up? Is there any liability that attaches to them? And I have a second one relating to the medical you know, the EMTs were told by the cops not to enter the room. There was a delay when the advanced EMT team was called out and then There’s this kind of lack of clarity of exactly when Miss Francis passed away. Was it in hospital? Or was it at home, or family indicates at home? I mean, did the hospital sign off and say, Yes, she passed away in hospital? I mean, you know, it seems like there’s a whole lot of factors leading to collusion, and different elements coming together to perpetuate one narrative that excludes liability for a whole range of role players.

Steve Vaccaro  50:36

That’s, that’s absolutely right. I mean, the ESU is just part of NYPD. So there’s no separate liability for ESU. Beyond that of NYPD, I can only come back to the point that I made that if the civilian government of New York City is ready to pay out millions of dollars each time the police kill someone like this. You know, these families have been traumatized by the death of their family member. All of us are glad that there is a political movement, providing support and affirmation for the families of these victims so that we can make our voice heard, and not let these cases just sort of die or go away with payments from the government to the victims. That’s happening now, you know, eight years after Shereese’s death. You know, but but this is what it, what it takes. And so the question of a liability on the part of the government, I mean, it has been for decades, the modus operandi of New York City Government to just pay and quiet and quiet down complaints and issues like this that happened. And it is very, very hard for families to be brave enough to resist, frankly, the financial pressure and all and the risks associated with litigation to be questioned again, by the police after they were already tape recorded the night of and, you know, the tools that lawyers have at getting at the truth are, frankly, intrusive and oppressive to to people in that situation. We know that, and we try to do it in a way that isn’t victimizing them a second time. At least some of us do. But I wouldn’t necessarily count on lawyers for the city to do that. So these are the reasons why this has gone on for so long is that there isn’t an accountability in the system for its failures. With respect to the hospital’s collusion. I mean, I can show you the death certificate, they the police, their their power and influence goes far beyond the police department. It goes to the Wall Street Journal that published that false account with it unsourced. You know, ordinarily, reporters aren’t supposed to use anonymous sources. And you see in newspapers often when they’re doing a political story, if they use an anonymous source, they’ll say they’ll give a reason why the source wanted to be anonymous, and it’s a little bit of a fig leaf. The source didn’t, it feared retaliation. The source wasn’t authorized to speak to the press.

But there’s some recognition on the part of journalists that when you are reporting information from an unidentified source, it’s questionable, it’s suspect. But I can tell you from dealing with this issue all the time here in New York City, that there is a common practice of the press to take unidentified anonymous police sources and report that information as if it were true. Sometimes they don’t even mention that it’s from an unidentified police source and the the facts are being reported as if they’re coming down from heaven, you know, like just the clouds are parting and these facts, quote unquote, are being revealed. So the media is very complicit in this. But the Office of Chief Medical Examiner who who said Shereese’s cause of death was compression asphyxia during violent agitated behavior, open parentheses, (schizophrenia). Um, that was, that was not a cause of her death or schizophrenia was not a cause of her death. Her agitated violent behavior was very much a reaction to four police officers holding her down and squeezing the breath from her and trying to handcuff her with her hands behind her back while she was in a delusional state.

Her schizophrenia was not the cause of her death in any kind of meaningful medical analysis of it, forget a forensic or legal analysis of it, and yet that was the cause of death that was put in on the death certificate, because the police wanted to make sure that any official records and unofficial records and media accounts supported their view of things and were as protective of these officers as possible. And the hospital, you know, the hospital didn’t release its own public statement, but of course, the hospital didn’t say she arrived DOA. I mean that was one of the things she arrived at the hospital and then went DOA, is one is the reference in the commanding officer from the IB is how he described it happened. That is absolutely false. At the hospital, they told Shereese’s family, she needed to be here 90 minutes ago. That’s a quote, that’s what they were told. Shereese was dead when they wheeled her out of her house, but they put on this charade of carrying the dead body out and trying to keep her family away from it. In order to make it appear that she quote unquote, “went DOA,” she was dead on arrival. How do you go DOA after arrival? But they use these acronyms like EDP and DOA, you know, just to sort of hide behind it and keep the facts secret. And there’s complicity at many levels of our emergency response system, our media, our healthcare system, our elected governance system that is allowing these deaths to continue.

Rashida Manjoo  56:12

I know we’re running out of time, but I have just one last question about, it’s something that has come up in previous hearings about the power that’s exercised and held by police unions. What’s your experience in New York City? Is that the same?

Steve Vaccaro  56:29

Absolutely. I have, you know, the police officers have a right to have their union rep from the Police Benevolent Association present when the IAB is questioning them. I’ve gotten audio tapes from these sessions where the IAB represented, I’m sorry, where the union representative of the police officer is jumping in and correcting the testimony. You know, and and it’s a very cozy scene that you that is that you can see painted when you listen to these recordings of police officers who’ve just killed someone being brought in in front of IAB and questioned and and having their union representatives there and interfering with the questioning and it’s a very informal situation. So that’s, that’s a huge, huge problem. Thank you so much.

Horace Campbell  57:29

Thank you very much.

Rashida Manjoo  57:32

Thank you.

Horace Campbell  57:32

For now this contains the hearing of the case of Shereese Francis. We’ll have a short very short break and hearings will resume and with the case of Daniel Prude. We will take a two minute break.

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