Police Brutality

NYPD Officer Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity for Shooting Ninth-Grader

In re Torsney, 394 N.E.2d 262 (N.Y. 1979)

Robert Torsney had been a by-the-book cop for eight years as of Thanksgiving 1976, when he and fellow officers responded to a call in the Cypress Hills housing project. Finding the situation resolved when they arrived, Torsney left the apartment building and walked up to ninth-grader Randolph Evans. The two had a brief conversation before Torsney shot the youth point-blank in the head.

Typically, a shooting by an on-duty police officer results in a suspension while the grand jury investigates. But Torsney’s fellow officers arrested him instead. He was released on bail, a fact that caused enormous racial tension in the city: Evans was black; Torsney was white.

Torsney underwent psychiatric evaluation, and a year later, when on trial for second-degree murder, the officer pleaded insanity. On the stand, he claimed the victim had reached for “a silver object.” No one corroborated Torsney’s account. A psychiatrist for the defense testified Torsney suffered from epilepsy and that he was mid-seizure when he fired his weapon.

The all-white jury ruled Torsney not guilty by reason of insanity. He was released from psychiatric care a year and a half later, his doctor stating, “We find he suffers from no mental disease since he has been with us.” The Appellate Court, attempting to block the order, was met by his counsel’s insistence that mental health institutions bore no responsibility for a miscarriage of justice.

Torsney filed for a $15,000-a-year disability pension but was denied after being discharged from the police department.

Stun Gun

Mark Davidson was in his senior year at Martin Van Buren High School. He had no prior criminal record when he was arrested on April 17, 1985 for allegedly trying to sell an undercover police officer $10 worth of marijuana. Davidson was taken to the 106th Precinct station in Ozone Park, where policemen shocked him more than 40 times with an electric stun gun capable of delivering up to 40,000 volts. The 20-minute torture session ended when Sergeant Richard Pike and Officer Jeffrey Gilbert threatened to apply the same treatment to Davidson’s testicles. Davidson agreed to the confession the officers demanded.

When Davidson pressed felony assault charges, 3 other people came forward with similar accusations. It was several months’ culmination of grievous police brutality claims – unnecessary use of force, a hit-and-run on Park Avenue, and civilian beatings by off-duty officers. Mayor Ed Koch dismantled the entire command structure at Ozone Park: 5 top commanders forced into retirement, 5 indicted officers suspended without pay, everyone else transferred.

Davidson’s credibility was questioned at trial. He had difficulty remembering the exact times of his arrest, his arrival at the precinct, his first meeting with his lawyer. But Pike’s and Gilbert’s outright denials failed to sway the jury. Both men were convicted on May 2, and each was sentenced to 2 to 6 years in prison.

Pike would face 3 more such trials, Gilbert 2. New York City settled with the torture victims in civil court for a total $1 million.


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