01/11/2004

Police Chief Meets With Community About Teen's Shooting

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Louisville's police chief met with concerned members of the black community Saturday after a week of controversy over the fatal shooting of a black teen by a white police officer.

Police Chief Robert White, who is black, told the forum that officers should not ask "If I shoot will I be justified?" but "What do I have to do not to take a life?"

White met with more than 50 people for an hourlong public forum at a church in the city's predominantly black West End.

"Shooting someone, taking a life is the last thing we want to do," White said.

White said he is frustrated that changes in training about diversity and use of lethal force, implemented after a police shooting a year earlier, did not prevent the death of 19-year-old Michael Newby. The teen was shot in the back Jan. 3 by an undercover officer during what police said was an attempted drug buy.

The officer, McKenzie G. Mattingly, is on administrative leave during investigation of the incident. He has refused to speak with police investigators.

"There will be an appropriate time to give a statement and we know that cases like this are very serious to everyone involved," Mary Sharp, a Fraternal Order of Police attorney representing Mattingly, said Friday. "However, I would ask anybody to reserve judgment on this case until such a time as when all the facts are in."

What began as a peaceful protest the day of his Newby's funeral led to a confrontation between youths and officers on horseback. Four people were arrested after a group of young activists ran up a ramp outside police headquarters, breaking some windows and demanding White appear.

White then held an impromptu meeting behind closed doors to listen to demonstrators' concerns.

White took over the department a year ago, in the wake of a December 2002 fatal shooting of a handcuffed black man, James Taylor. Prosecutors sent that case to a grand jury, which cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing. But the shooting of Taylor prompted protests and a citizens' commission formed in 2003 recomended training and other measures that were adopted by the police department.

The Rev. Clay Calloway, who moderated the forum Saturday where more than a dozen people asked White questions about the shooting, said police have not made enough progress in the last year.

"It just appears like it's a gross breach of a promise on the part of the administration in terms of their commitment to reform the use of lethal force," Calloway said.

Police Sgt. Yvette Gentry and several other black officers attended Saturday's forum.

"We just wanted to be here to support our chief and to support his efforts and just to let him know he's not by himself," Gentry said. "Every time an incident happens we just go so far back."

A candlelight vigil was planned for Saturday evening at the site of the shooting. Protesters also scheduled a demonstration at police headquarters for Sunday afternoon. White and Mayor Jerry Abramson said they expected any protests to be peaceful but said the community would not tolerate violence and arrests would be made if laws were broken.

The FBI is investigating whether Newby's civil rights were violated, a spokesman said. Local prosecutors are awaiting an investigative report from police and could send the case to a grand jury.

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