The city will shell out $3 million to the mother of a mentally ill teen killed in a hail of police bullets after NYPD officers mistook a hairbrush for a gun, the Daily News has learned.
Five cops fired 20 bullets at Khiel Coppin, 18, on Nov. 12, 2007, outside his home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn in a shooting that sparked rallies and outrage from criminal justice advocates.
The killing also drew the attention of then-state Sen. Eric Adams, who suggested that the NYPD was withholding video of the fatal shooting.
“It’s been such a long journey. It’s been years,” said Coppin’s mom, Denise Owens. “From day one, it was a rough ride. They didn’t want to accept accountability.”
A lawsuit filed by Coppin’s mother languished in state court for more than a decade, with the city winning summary judgment to have the case dismissed in 2017.
But two years ago, a state appeals panel reversed that decision, saying that a jury should determine if the officers used excessive force. The appeals panel included Sylvia Hines-Radix, who Mayor Adams tapped to become the city’s corporation counsel after his election in January.
The city agreed to settle the case on Thursday, Owens’ lawyer, Wale Mosaku, told The News.
“It’s not like anyone ever directly took responsibility,” Owens said. “It’s just a legal tactic as far as I’m concerned. … It still doesn’t bring back my son. At the end of the day, it’s just money. You still have a loss.”
On the day of the shooting, Coppin’s mother called Interfaith Medical Center’s mobile crisis team about noon to ask for help with her son. Coppin had a history of mental illness and had stopped taking his anti-psychotic medication.
A crisis team responded to her home around 6:30 p.m., but Coppin wasn’t there and the team left. The teen returned minutes later and Owens called the cops.
“If I knew that that would have been the outcome, maybe I would have proceeded another way,” Owens told The News.
During the 911 call, Coppin could be heard screaming repeatedly in the background that he had a gun, but in a followup call with the dispatcher, Owens clarified, “He does not have a firearm.”
Then-NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly initially said that when police arrived at the apartment, they could see Coppin in a hallway with two knives. The officers got Owens and her 11-year-old daughter out of the home, and the mom repeated that her son wasn’t carrying a gun.
As the cops approached Coppin, he brandished the knives, yelling, “Shoot me! Kill me!” and at one point shouted, “Come get me! I have a gun! Let’s do this!” according to the initial police account.
Coppin climbed out a window and dropped to the sidewalk, then gestured with an item under his sweatshirt.
Officers Keith Livingston and Greg Scalcione, Sgts. Carl Carrara and Billy Prokesch and Detective George Harvey fired a total of 20 shots, hitting Coppin 13 times.
The object in his hand turned out to be a black hairbrush.
“The city’s position was that the officers did everything right. They thought he had a gun and that’s why they took the actions that they did. But we had three witnesses, bystanders, who saw what happened and said something different,” said Mosaku, the family’s lawyer.
He said this was a case of contagion shooting, where one cop fires then everyone else joins in. Mosaku added that he deposed a witness who saw the officers start shooting after Coppin dropped the hairbrush.
Shortly after the shooting, Adams called for police to release video of the shooting, saying “Someone doesn’t want the public to see this tape. … If there’s a tape, which we believe there is, it can answer many questions of what happened that night.”
The NYPD said that the camera that would have caught the shooting was broken, and no video existed.
A city Law Department spokesman on Monday said that the settlement “was in the best interest of all parties.”
“When officers responded to a mother’s call for help they were confronted by what they believed to be a lethal threat and had to make split-second decisions,” Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci said. “Officers testified that Mr. Coppin lunged at them with a knife, yelled that he had a gun, and reached for that weapon in the bulge of his sweatshirt, despite repeated orders to raise his hands.”
Paolucci added, “While this incident ended tragically, a lower court agreed that the actions of these officers were justified under the circumstances. An appellate court, however, reinstated claims against the officers, saying a jury should weigh the evidence.”
Of the five officers, only Harvey is still on active duty, in the 79th Precinct detective squad. The other four have retired, according to the NYPD.
The department wouldn’t comment further Monday.
One of the officers, Carrara, drew criticism for his extracurricular activities as the frontman for the punk band “EDP,” which is police-speak for an emotionally disturbed person. The band’s album, “Next Stop: Bleaker Street,” was released a day after the shooting.
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