Jury selection begins in murder trial of NYPD Officer Wayne Isaacs
The trial of an NYPD officer charged with murdering an unarmed man in a road rage incident began jury selection on Thursday.
After a full day of selection, eight out of a hopeful 16 jurors, including four alternates, were chosen in the murder trial of suspended NYPD Officer Wayne Isaacs.
Supreme Court Justice Alexander Jeong introduced seven initial questions to a packed courtroom at Brooklyn Supreme Court, of which the answers were given in private.
When reporters raised concern, Jeong said he would continue doing selection this way and jurors would publicly answer the following 19 questions after he filtered through them. Multiple attorneys told the Brooklyn Eagle that this was not uncommon in similar trials.
“In this case, a cop is the defendant so there are plenty of preconceived ideas about police that have to be weeded out and jurors have to feel that they can speak openly without [newspapers] publishing what they say,” said Jay Schwitzman, defense attorney and former president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association. “For example, if a juror indicates a bias against police or guns and that gets published, a crazed supremacist can target that person.”
A former judge in the court told the Eagle that this may also be done in order to avoid tainting the jury pool. He said in cases like this some jurors’ answers can end up influencing the jurors waiting to be interviewed.
Of 31 potential jurors on the panel after 30 were initially excused, about half had some sort of connection or interaction with police, an important question given the defendant is a police officer.
One prospective juror admitted to having about 10 police officers in his family. He was excused.
Jeong said there would possibly be about 21 police personnel witnesses in the trial that is expected to go no later than Nov. 17.
Isaacs, who has been suspended without pay, could face 25 years to life in prison for murdering Delrawn Small if he is convicted.
Isaacs’ attorney said that his client is still an NYPD officer. However, a spokesperson for the NYPD confirmed that he has been suspended.
Isaacs allegedly killed Small after the two got into a traffic dispute on July 4, 2016 in East New York when Isaacs was off duty.
Surveillance footage shows Small parking near the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Bradford Street and walking up to Isaacs’ driver’s side window when Isaacs allegedly shot him while Small’s girlfriend and children watched.
Small, 37, stumbled between two nearby cars and fell over while Isaacs called the police and reported that Small punched him in the face before he fired.
This is the first police involved murder case prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office since Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 executive order directed the AG to investigate unarmed civilians killed by police.
“This trial will demonstrate whether the public should have more confidence in our system of criminal justice when the attorney general as an independent prosecutor, prosecutes the case,” said attorney Sanford Rubenstein.
Rubenstein represents Small’s widow Wenona Small, who filed a wrongful death suit after the incident. The suit will not go to court until after the criminal proceedings.
Small’s family and friends joined together Wednesday before jury selection began.
“Jury selection is critical to hold an officer accountable,” Small’s sister, Victoria Davis, said. “Our family is demanding accountability.”
“We want to make sure the attorney general’s office is being very aggressive,” said Victor Dempsey, Small’s brother, who sat in the courtroom during selection.
Isaacs’ attorneys stressed the importance of Small’s criminal history during pre-trial motions, but Jeong will not allow talk of it in the trial, according to news reports.
Defense attorney Stephen Worth echoed his concerns with reporters, telling of Small’s 11 prior arrests.
“He was clearly the aggressor here,” Worth said. “I think we can believe that the jury will understand the emotion and reaction that our client had.”
The trial will be off on Tuesdays and for Veterans Day.
Opening statements are scheduled for Monday.
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