A new Netflix series called Trial By Media is examining “some of the most dramatic and memorable trials in recent history” through the lens of the idea that “courtroom dramas have increasingly been transformed into a form of entertainment.”
One of its episodes is titled “41 Shots” and it recounts the death of Amadou Diallo, a black man in New York City who was shot 19 times by four white NYPD officers. Here’s what you need to know about the trial and what happened afterward.
Diallo Was Shot Because the Officers Claimed He Resembled a Serial Rapist
In February 1999, Diallo was returning to his building when four officers, dressed in plain clothes as part of the Street Crime Unit, approached him and fired 41 shots, hitting him 19 times. The officers said they thought he had a gun, which later turned out to be his wallet, and that he fit the “general description” of a serial rapist, according to the New York Times coverage of the verdict.
The four officers in question were Kenneth Boss, 28, Sean Carroll, 37, Edward McMellon, 27, and Richard Murphy, 27. Officer Carroll was the first to notice Diallo and testified that the victim was “acting suspiciously” and “slinking” back to the stoop of the building. All of the officers testified they never considered the idea that Diallo might have lived in the building.
The jury deliberated for three days before acquitting the officers of second-degree murder.
In 2000, the serial rapist that the officers claimed to think was Diallo was tried and convicted of raping, sexually abusing, or robbing 29 women over five years in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Westchester County. He was sentenced to 155 years in prison, and during the hearing, Justice Joseph Fisch of the State Supreme Court said, Would Amadou Diallo be alive today were it not for your activities here in the Bronx?”
Diallo’s Parents Sued the City and the Officers
Diallo’s parents filed a civil suit against the city of New York and the officers involved, claiming gross negligence, wrongful death, racial profiling, and other civil rights violations. They settled out of court for a sum of $3 million, one of the largest settlements under New York State’s “wrongful death law” for a victim who is single and has no dependents.
“The mayor, the Police Department, and the city deeply regret what occurred and extend their sympathies to the Diallo family,” Michael A. Cardozo, the city’s corporation counsel, told the New York Times in a statement.
Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou, added, “An apology was given today on the record. The apology is accepted. What we lost cannot be replaced, but we agreed to join hands with the city and accept this closure.”
The Four Officers Remain in the City of New York’s Employ
According to the New York Times coverage of the civil settlement, Officers McMellon and Murphy eventually resigned from the police department and went to work for the New York Fire Department. Officers Boss and Carroll retained their jobs as police officers but were no longer allowed to carry guns.
The Street Crime Unit was disbanded after Diallo’s death. In a 1999 New York Times profile of the Street Crime Unit, one officer, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that they were forced to adhere to an unwritten quota for each officer to seize at least one gun per month.
“There are guys who are willing to toss anyone who’s walking with his hands in his pockets,” said the officer. “We frisk 20, maybe 30 people a day. Are they all by the book? Of course not; it’s safer and easier to just toss people. And if it’s the 25th of the month and you haven’t got your gun yet? Things can get a little desperate.”
In a PIX11 piece on the 20th anniversary of Diallo’s death, Benjamin Gurley, the now-commanding officer of the 43rd precinct in the Bronx where the officers worked, said, “We’ve come so far. This community is super strong, super supportive of the police department.”
Trial By Media is out now on Netflix.