A New York City police officer charged with killing an unarmed man in an apparent road rage shooting was acquitted of murder and manslaughter on Monday.
A Brooklyn jury returned the verdict at the trial of Wayne Isaacs, who was off duty on July 4, 2016, when he and Delrawn Small got into a traffic dispute that authorities said continued for several blocks.
Small got out of his car and confronted the officer, who responded by shooting him through the driver’s side window. Isaacs said he fired in self-defense.
The trial marked the first time the state attorney general prosecuted a police shooting of an unarmed victim since Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the office that role in August 2015 in response to a spate of civilian killings by police caught on video.
Isaacs was on the road in civilian clothes but still carrying a handgun following a shift that ended at midnight. A passenger in Small’s car told police Small grew angry because he thought Isaacs had cut him off and got out his car at a stoplight to confront the officer.
Based on preliminary evidence, including Isaacs’ statements, police initially said they believed the officer opened fire after Small reached through an open driver’s side window and punched the officer while he sat behind the wheel of his car.
But a short black-and-white video appeared to show Small getting struck by gunfire the moment he walks up to the car, with no clear indication that he first assaulted the officer.
Small, 37, can be seen recoiling and stumbling around before collapsing. The officer briefly exits his car and looks in the fallen man’s direction but then returns to the car.
“At that point, I thought I was going to lose my life,” Isaacs told the jury. “Delrawn Small struck me; that’s the only reason I had to stop the threat of losing my life.”
“You could tell he was upset with me. At that time of the night, in that area of East New York, you know, I thought maybe he recognized me from a previous arrest or was a carjacking,” Isaac said. “Could tell he was in a rage coming at me.”
After the verdict, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Alexander Jeong told Isaacs, “No one’s passing any judgement — we can only hope that there are no incidents like this in the future.”