AG James Won’t Charge Reckless Cops Who Struck and Killed Ronald Smith With a Speeding Police Van
The NYPD officer who struck and killed a Brooklyn man on Eastern Parkway while driving a police van at 45.7 miles per hour in a 25 mile-per-hour zone and committed other rule-book violations will not face criminal charges, incensing the victim’s family that had placed its hopes on an investigation by the state attorney general.
“My family is outraged,” said Julie Floyd, the sister of victim Ronald Smith. “It’s ridiculous what these people can get away with.”
Floyd’s comments came minutes after she and other family members had learned that the Attorney General’s Office of Special Investigation — which has investigatory power in cases of police-involved killings — would not prosecute Officers Orkhan Mamedov and Evan Siegel for their role in killing Smith, who was struck by Mamedov at high speed while panhandling in the median of Eastern Parkway on the rainy night of April 7, 2022.
“Having thoroughly investigated the matter and analyzed the law, OSI will not seek charges against Police Officer Mamedov because it would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mamedov committed a crime when he caused Mr. Smith’s death,” stated the 128-page report.
The decision was based partly on a troubling fact of state vehicle and traffic law, which defines the transporting or transfer of prisoners as an “emergency vehicle operation.” Under that definition, the report said, even exceeding the speed limit by nearly 21 miles per hour on Eastern Parkway is not illegal.
But that doesn’t mean Mamedov was acting responsibly. According to the report, several witnesses — including two of the prisoners in the van — said Mamedov was driving recklessly before striking Smith.
The van was “speeding, flying” and “swerving through traffic” before the crash, said one of the prisoners. And another said Mamedov was going “in and out” of traffic.
At that rate of speed — on a rainy, dark night, with the glare of headlines obscuring the roadway, according to the report — Mamedov could not have stopped in time to avoid Smith. But the speed also complicated a maneuver he made, according to the report: When a car ahead of the van entered a left-turn lane at the Schenectady Avenue intersection only to return back into the westbound lane, Mamedov swerved around the other driver by maneuvering into the left-turn lane rather than simply slowing down.
On the other side of the intersection, that left-turn lane turned into the median — where Smith was standing.
Why was Mamedov speeding? Because he was impatient, the report said.
“Mamedov said he knew the evening shift change at Brooklyn Central Booking was approaching, which is known to result in a delay with lodging the prisoners, so he wanted to get the prisoners to Brooklyn Central Booking as quickly as possible,” the report said. That explanation contradicts the argument that transporting prisoners is an emergency operation.
The report argued against charging Mamedov with criminally negligent homicide because making such a case has a high burden on prosecutors, who would have to prove that Mamedov took risks of “such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.”
And under existing precedent, the report said, “proof of the defendant’s failure to perceive the risk of death is not sufficient to convict him or her of criminally negligent homicide.”
And other evidence in the report also complicated a criminal charge because of the deference shown to officers who believe they are in danger. In this case, Mamedov claimed that “he was concerned about the transport because PO Siegel was a rookie, and one of the prisoners, LW, had been violent during his arrest. … Mamedov said he was apprehensive about LW and was consistently looking behind him to check on the prisoners, especially when he heard their cuff chains rattling.”
But in a breach of the rules, Mamedov was driving a van that did not have a security partition between the driver and the passengers. And the prisoners had been cuffed in such a way that each of them had a free arm. So, Smith’s family and supporters argued, Mamedov’s fear was his own fault — and the driver was certainly not in fear of the man he ended up killing.
“So they say they were in fear for their life, and were being distracted, when they didn’t even use the right transport,” Floyd said. “Then they run over a civilian and they still get to walk away.” Floyd added that she did not think James was sorry for her loss.
The AG’s office pushed back on that.
“The Attorney General’s Office conducts thorough investigations of every case, regardless of someone’s station in life, and works tirelessly to provide communities with the transparency and accountability we all deserve,” said an office spokesperson, who declined to put a name to the statement. “After an exhaustive examination of the facts surrounding this incident, it was determined that Mr. Smith’s death was a horrible and unintentional tragedy. While criminal charges could not be legally justified, we recommended important policy changes to the NYPD to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.”
Those recommendations include:
- The police must no longer consider prisoner transfer as an emergency operation.
- The NYPD must have a higher standard of safety and security for prisoner transport and appropriately equip officers for the task.
- The NYPD must hold officers to the same standards as civilians and issue field sobriety tests faster (Mamedov was not tested for 90 minutes because only certain officers can administer a breath test to fellow officers under current rules).
Loyda Colon, the executive director of the Justice Committee, which has supported the Smith family, seized on the report’s recommendations to argue that Mamedov and Siegel should be fired.
“These officers broke departmental guidelines, they were recklessly driving through Brooklyn, and the AG’s office is also recommending that NYPD officers use the proper transport vehicles. So they broke departmental guidelines and Robert Anthony Smith is dead [yet] once again NYPD officers get away with taking a New Yorkers life for no reason.”
“Letitia James used to march with Parents Against Police Brutality back then,” Rosario said. “Now she is protecting police officers officers when she should be protecting the people that live in our city.”