New Trial for NYPD on Shooting of Bronx Teen

     MANHATTAN (CN) — Overturning a verdict against police for the shooting of a Bronx teen, a New York appeals court said new evidence of witness perjury requires a retrial.
     Police have long defended the Oct. 30, 2005, shooting of Leonel Disla by saying the 19-year-old had been wielding a knife and attacking others.
     But one of the witnesses who contradicted that claim, Juan Polanco, testified that he had seen the shooting, and that Disla was not holding the knife recovered at the scene.
     On Nov. 25, 2014 — the day after a Missouri grand jury decided to not indict the officer who shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown — Candida Disla won a civil verdict in Bronx County Supreme Court holding police liable for her son’s death.
     The Appellate Division’s First Judicial Department set that verdict aside last week, crediting new evidence indicating that Polanco lied.
     Though Polanco invoked his Fifth Amendment rights when questioned about this evidence at a recent hearing, the Sept. 15 ruling notes that the city presented transcriptions of recorded telephone calls made shortly before the trial.
     Incarcerated on unrelated charges at the time, Polanco “told friends that he had seen the decedent with a knife in the altercation that led to his death but would be testifying falsely at trial to help the decedent’s family,” the ruling states.
     Polanco mentioned as well “that he expected to be compensated for testifying to this effect,” the ruling states, quoting him as saying “I ain’t … for free.” (Ellipsis in original.)
     A four-judge appellate panel agreed that this evidence requires a new trial.
     City officials had sought to have the case against them thrown out entirely, but the court said Polanco’s possible perjury doesn’t necessarily clear police.
     Claims that Disla was unarmed still have support from another witness, Javier Pablo, whose ground-floor apartment gave him a view of the shooting.
     Pablo testified that he never saw a knife in Disla’s hands, but the city notes that the witness’s view of the melee was “at best … extremely limited and obscured.”
     The window Pablo claims to have seen the shooting through is heavily barred, and “a large crowd” had spilled out on the sidewalk, between Pablo’s window and Disla, to watch the confrontation.
     Still, the ruling says, “these are points to be argued to the jury at the new trial, not grounds for deeming the evidence insufficient to support a verdict for plaintiff as a matter of law.”
     The 4-page ruling closes with a note about the Disla family’s representation by the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.
     If Polanco is called as a witness, the firm is disqualified, according to the ruling.
     This stems from a previous finding that the firm will become an essential witness if Polanco is called to testify.
     Since Polanco is asserting his Fifth Amendment right, whatever he told the law firm when he was interviewed by one of its attorneys “is properly discoverable, and potentially usable at trial,” according to the ruling.
     But this is only a possibility if Polanco is called again, by either side.

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