07/21/2006

$3 million settlement in NYPD slay of unarmed African immigrant

By TOM HAYS
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- The family of an unarmed art trader from Burkina Faso who was gunned down in a chance run-in with police during a warehouse raid will receive $3 million (euro2.37 million) to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit, attorneys said Thursday.

The family had sued the city in federal court, claiming a New York Police Department officer violated the civil rights of Ousmane Zongo by shooting and killing him in 2003. Police had targeted the Manhattan storage facility, where Zongo repaired art and musical instruments, after an investigation found it was being used in a CD and DVD pirating operation.

The lawsuit had sought $150 million (euro118.64 million) in damages for pain, suffering and loss of income to the 43-year-old immigrant's wife and two small children in the western African country of Burkina Faso.

"Justice has now been done in the civil case," said the family's lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein. "The Zongo family is grateful to the people of New York for their support, particularly those in the African community."

A statement by city law department attorney Mary O'Flynn said officials hoped the deal would "bring closure to (Zongo's) family in this very tragic case."

The shooter, former Officer Bryan Conroy, was convicted last year of criminally negligent homicide in a non-jury trial. He was sentenced to five years' probation.

Testifying before a grand jury in May 2003, Conroy said he was guarding a bin of knockoff CDs by himself when Zongo appeared in a corridor to turn on a light. Conroy, who was disguised in a postal worker's uniform, pointed his 9mm semiautomatic pistol at Zongo and ordered him to freeze.

The officer testified he opened fire only after Zongo charged him and tried to wrestle away his weapon. The victim was hit four times, twice in the back.

At Conroy's sentencing, Justice Robert Straus said he believed the killing was partly the result of poor training and supervision of an inexperienced officer. He also told Conroy, who was 27 at the time, he would have to live with the consequences.

"You will recognize every day that you took a life that shouldn't have been taken," the judge told Conroy.

The Zongo case prompted comparisons with the shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant shot to death at the front door of his Bronx apartment building in 1999 by four officers who said he fit the description of a rape suspect and they mistook his wallet for a gun. The officers, who fired 41 shots at Diallo, were acquitted of state criminal charges in a 2000 trial.

In 2004, the city settled a lawsuit brought by the Diallo family, also for $3 million (euro2.37 million).

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