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Judge Orders Temporary Surrender of Documents In Chamberlain Case

Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. and his counsel interact with family, friends and supporters outside the White Plains courthouse Wednesday after Judge Cathy Siebel ruled the City of White Plains must release police documents. Photo Credit: Suzanne Samin
Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. was a former U.S. Marine who was tasered and fatally shot by White Plains police in his home after accidentally triggering his Life Alert pendant. Photo Credit: Filed

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – A judge Wednesday ruled that the city must surrender 600 pages of confidential documents in relation to a wrongful death lawsuit filed last year against White Plains and its police department

Judge Cathy Siebel ordered the White Plains Police Department to surrender the hotly contested documents, including procedural and personnel information, to Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. and his counsel.

On July 2, 2012, Chamberlain Jr. filed a $21 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city, its police department, housing authority and all eight officers connected to the death of his father, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. – a former U.S. Marine who was tasered and fatally shot after police forcibly entered his apartment in response to an accidentally triggered Life Alert necklace.

The lawsuit also would require the White Plains Police Department to modify police procedures in dealing with the mentally ill.

A grand jury previously reviewed the case and decided no criminal charges would be filed against the police officers involved in the shooting. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced his office would investigate whether federal civil rights law was violated.

The case, which is described by Chamberlain Jr. as a “matter of civil rights,” has been delayed due to the city’s concern in releasing the documents. The defense argued releasing the documents would expose important police protocol and procedures to the public and would therefore jeopardize public safety.

The city also argued the documents should continue to be withheld so personnel documents of those who have been dismissed from the case are not revealed needlessly.

When asked how much of the 600 pages should be kept confidential, the defense replied “upwards of seventy percent.”

Randolph McLaughlin, lawyer for the plaintiff, argued the documents are in the public's interest.

“The city has released three hundred pages of documents before. Why not now? It is of great public interest. They have the right to know that the White Plains Police Department can come to their apartments, bust down the door and kill them because of emotional distress,” he said.

McLaughlin also argued the documents are vital to the case because of the city’s policy that allows for psychiatrists and mental health professionals to be appointed for people in emotional distress.

“I think it sounds like a great idea; I wish they had used it,” he said.

He said the plaintiff cannot determine why the police did not use the county mental health program unless they are aware of the identities of the professionals that could have been called, and the procedures that would have been implemented to call them.

Siebel said while it makes sense for important procedures, such as hostage protocol, to be kept confidential, the protocol for responding to cardiac arrest and other health concerns should be open to the public.

She ruled that by Monday, the police department must release the documents to the plaintiff with the temporary understanding the documents must not be shared with the public. Personnel information will be withheld, except for disciplines, commendations and civilian complaints.

Siebel said the defense will have the ability to flag the portions they feel should not be open to the public and must provide the plaintiff with their reasoning as to why.

Subsequently, the plaintiff will be allowed to challenge the arguments. The defense will then present all of this information to Siebel, who will make a final ruling.

Outside the courthouse after the ruling, Chamberlain Jr. said, “I’m very pleased at the decision that the courts made in regard to the release of the documents that they (the city) have been holding for months. I think that this case is going to come down to training - how these officers were trained or not trained, which led to the killing of my father.”

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