Opening arguments to begin in N.Y. $21M wrongful death lawsuit

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Jury selection is complete in the long-awaited $21 million federal wrongful death suit brought by the family of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., a 68-year-old retired corrections officer who was shot and killed by White Plains police in his apartment five years ago.

"I walk in (the federal courthouse in White Plains) knowing that we will have victory..." Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. said in a Facebook Live video stream he made shortly before heading inside. "This will not just be a win for my family, this will be a win for many people..."

The first witnesses are expected to be called to the stand Wednesday morning.

Chamberlain Sr., an African-American Marine Corps veteran, was killed on Nov. 19, 2011, when police said he charged at an officer with a knife following an early morning standoff at his apartment. He'd already been shot with a stun gun and beanbags "the force of a Mike Tyson punch," according to his lawyers, when Officer Anthony Carelli shot and killed him as he allegedly charged at another officer. The alleged shooter, Officer Carelli, could be called to trial this week.

Police were dispatched to the apartment after Chamberlain's life alert device went off. When they arrived, Chamberlain Sr., who had a heart ailment, mental illness and substance abuse problems, told police he was OK and did not need help. Authorities said that because Chamberlain was ranting and appeared to be talking to others in the apartment, they had to check on his welfare before they could leave.

Chamberlain, who had been drinking, refused to open his door and became increasingly agitated as the standoff continued, allegedly thrusting a knife and cleaver through the chained apartment door and threatening to kill the first officer to enter.

The lawsuit claims that police cursed and used racial slurs to taunt Chamberlain Sr., needlessly escalating the situation. Family lawyers say officers did not allow family members to try and calm him down by telephone, or allow a relative who also lived in the building to speak with him.

Some audio and video of the confrontation was captured on Chamberlain Sr.'s life alert device and the police stun gun.

Eventually, police forced open the apartment door and fired the stun gun at Chamberlain Sr., who they said was standing in the hallway in his underwear, brandishing a knife. After that failed to bring him down, police said, Chamberlain Sr. was then hit with beanbags from a shotgun as police moved inside. He was finally shot and killed by Carelli when police said he charged at another officer with a kitchen knife.

Lawyers for the family say the force of the beanbags knocked Chamberlain to the floor and that evidence will show he was still lying there when the fatal shots were fired, and could not have been charging at police.

The Chamberlain family filed the federal lawsuit against the city and the police after a Westchester County grand jury chose not to indict any of the officers involved on criminal charges.

In court actions leading up to the trial, U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel dismissed many of the lawsuit's claims, including those against all of the officers except for Carelli. She's also ruled that some evidence will not be admitted during the trial.

Both Andrew Quinn, Carelli's lawyer, and Lalit Looma, the attorney for the city, have denied the remaining claims in the suit.

Chamberlain's family is being represented by lawyers Randolph McLaughlin and Debra Cohen, both of the Newman Ferrara firm, and White Plains attorney Mayo Bartlett.

The trial is expected to take two weeks.

USA TODAY


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