New Bedford NAACP Seeks DOJ Probe of 2012 Malcolm Gracia Shooting
The New Bedford branch of the NAACP has asked the U.S. Dept. of Justice to open an investigation into the 2012 fatal police shooting of 15-year-old Malcolm Gracia, a Black teen of Cape Verdean descent.
Local NAACP president Dr. LaSella Hall in a press release today said the group has sent a letter to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice calling for an independent probe into the killing.
"With compelling evidence of mishandled forensics; overly friendly interrogation of the accused police officers; an assistant DA who failed to gather critical evidence; mishandled forensics; the DA's final report riddled with factual errors and improbable assumptions; a gag order on medial records of the police officer who claimed to have been stabbed and; New Bedford's half-million-dollar settlement with the Gracia family, it is clear that justice was the second casualty in the case," the letter reads, according to the NAACP press release.
The NAACP joined activist groups Black Lives Matter New Bedford and BREATHE in calling for the prosecution of officers Trevor Sylvia and Paul Fonseca, and discipline for officers Tyson Barnes, David Brown, Paul Fonseca, Brian Safioleas, and Trevor Sylvia for allegedly filing false police reports.
"A presentation by Gracia's family attorney (Donald Brisson) revealed that many facts were overlooked or ignored in the police department's and district attorney's investigation of the killing," the release further stated.
Eight years ago, Gracia was shot and killed by New Bedford police after he allegedly stabbed a Black police detective. Gracia had been approached by officers in a "meet and greet" move after police say they observed a gang handshake. The Bristol County District Attorney's Office later determined that the police shooting was justified. However, a Superior Court Judge declined to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Gracia's family while opining that the police stop itself was illegal.
The Gracia family last year accepted a $500,000 settlement in that civil lawsuit naming the city, and the matter never went to trial. Brisson in recent months has made public presentations of his evidence in the case, giving fuel to the "Justice for Malcolm" movement.
"Mr. Brisson's presentations cast a disturbing light on the New Bedford Police, the District Attorney's office, and the mayor himself in the wake of Malcolm Gracia's shooting," the NAACP stated.
The New Bedford Police Department under Chief Joseph Cordeiro has declined to comment on the Gracia matter. "We can’t speak to what happened during previous administrations," a department spokeswoman said in June. The killing occurred under former Chief David Provencher.
The office of Mayor Jon Mitchell issued a statement following February's court settlement. In that statement, Mitchell refers to the shooting as "a tragedy all around" and points to steps taken to improve the relationship between youth and New Bedford police, including a city-wide dialog facilitated by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Mitchell in his statement stood by a report issued by then-District Attorney Sam Sutter that cleared the officers of wrongdoing.
"On May 17, 2012, Malcolm Gracia died after an encounter in the Temple Landing neighborhood in which he stabbed a New Bedford Police Detective with a hunting knife," the mayor's statement reads. "Police had first attempted to subdue Gracia with a Taser, ordering him to drop his knife as he moved toward another detective; after this failed to stop Gracia, two detectives at the scene then shot and killed him."
Activists point out that Gracia was shot three times in the back and once in the head. They allege that Gracia was the victim of racial profiling, and even question whether a stabbing really occured. Hall said today that the NAACP believes there is enough substance in Atty. Brisson's presentations to warrant re-opening the case.
"Justice has long been denied. We expect a speedy but thorough, independent investigation and will not rest until that is secured," Hall wrote.