Criminals · Murder · New York

November 25, 1976 – New York City Police Officer Kills Unarmed Teen

I would normally never touch a subject like this one. This week, I  had an interaction with a law enforcement officer that had me shaking my head.

He had come to my house looking for someone else and was just RUDE.

What ever happened to customer service? I was a cop in a former life, and I have gone to homes looking for bad guys to serve warrants.

I would have NEVER been that rude to anyone.

Anyway, enough about me.

It seems that every day we hear stories of racist cops, militarized cops, and cops that over extend their authority. You almost never hear about the cops that go out of their way to provide help for the helpless.

I am tired of hearing about white cops killing unarmed black kids – why does it have to be about race? Why can’t we just report something like ” a-hole cop kills unarmed kid.”

I am not anti-law enforcement; if I could do it all over again, I would still be a cop. I am anti-media being anti-cop.

This is not a story about a cop killing a kid. This is a story about how the justice system was played and justice was not served.

UGH! I am ranting – sorry.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1976, Robert Torsney had a Thanksgiving meal with his in-laws. He had a few beers, watched some football, and reported for work at 3:30 pm.

Robert Torsney was an eight-year veteran of the New York Police Department. He begrudgingly showed up for work, writing in his patrol log “Happy Day, Felon Day,  Thanksgiving work day.”

It was a quiet routine shift. –I am curious what is considered normal and routine in New York City?– Towards the end of the shift, Torsney and his partner Matthew Williams, responded to a “man with a gun” call.

The call was to the Cyprus Houses apartment complex. After joining other officers already at the scene, they found no man with a gun.

15-year-old Randolph Evans was returning home after walking his grandmother to the bus stop. As he approached the Cyprus House building, he noticed several police officers.

He asked the officer approaching him –Torsney already had his hand resting on his gun– “Did you just come from apartment 7-D?” Robert Torsney had been in a different apartment in the building. He replied “You’re damn right I did.” At this point, he pulled his service weapon and shot Evans in the head from a distance of about 2 feet.

Hurt people, hurt people! – unknown

This simple phrase has taught me to look at things through a different set of lenses. It does not negate the hurt someone did, nor does it excuse the harm.

Torsney grew up in a house ruled by an abusive, alcoholic father that eventually was found schizophrenic and spent the remainder of his days in a hospital.

After high school –partially to prove he was just as manly as his brother– he joined the Marine Corps and spent his three-year tour of duty as a printer.

A year after leaving the military, Torsney joined the New York Police Department as a patrolman. A rank that he still held 8 years later.

After having done some research, it does not seem that difficult to advance in rank with NYPD. 1/3 of all officers are over the rank of Police Officer (the equivalent of patrolman in 1975)

The bulk of his police career was spent with the unit that provides security for parades and special events.

He eventually asked to be transferred the 75th Precinct. That precinct is a predominantly African-American population base, and was an angry neighborhood.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 8.48.06 PM

Assigned to a squad car with a more senior partner, he had pulled his gun several times, and had never fired it.

Torsney had an alcoholic father but would tell you that he was not one himself. He would put away a 6-pack of beer every night. His father had mental issues but Torsney had not demonstrated any of the same signs. He did, however, have several head injuries through is life.

After shooting Evans, Torsney walked calmly back to his patrol car and got in it. He removed the spent casing from his pistol and replaced it. Officer Williams looked at Torsney and asked,“What did you do?” Torsney responded, “I don’t know, Matty. What did I do?”

Normally an officer-involved shooting requires that the officer be suspended during the investigation. Robert Torsney was arrested as soon as they arrived back at the precinct building.

During the interrogation, Torsney admitted to the obvious–that he had shot Evans. He did, however, claim that Evans was pulling out a silver firearm.

According to Torsney’s version of the shooting, “I was confronted by this guy as I was 20 to 30 feet from the door. I was walking, and he was walking towards me. As he was walking towards me, he was reaching into his belt. We were walking towards each other. He wasn’t on the path. He said, ‘Hey, what happened up there?’ or words to that effect. He came out with what appeared to be a chrome gun barrel. As he was talking and taking that gun out, I thought I was gonna be shot. I fi red the gun as he was pulling it out.”  The shooting, Torsney further explained, was a “reflex action.” Torsney recalled that he shot from his side, was “not positive” he heard the gun go off, and could remember little that happened thereafter.

Insanity: Murder, Madness, and the Law

There was no gun found at the scene. None of the witnesses, including the other officers, saw Evans with a gun.

At the arraignment, the judge allowed Torsney to be released on $40,000 bail. The bail was posted by the New York City’s police union. (This is one of the primary purposes of the union – to protect and defend officers.)

When Torsney was released on bail, it caused huge issues in the city. Evans was black, Torsney was white.

One of the largest groups of people offended by Torsney being released on bail was the Guardian Association. This is a organization comprised of African-American police officers of the NYPD. They felt that the union was being racist in assisting Torsney.

Faced with the fact there was no gun, and that it appeared that it was an unprovoked murder, the Grand Jury indicted Torsney of intentional murder. With this indictment, the judge revoked his bail. The prosecution argued that Mr. Torsney committed an unprovoked, unjustifiable, and intentional murder of a human being and walked coldly away as if nothing happened.

Dr. Daniel Schwartz interviewed Torsney and reviewed his history and account of the incident. He concluded that Torsney suffered from a epileptic psychomotor seizure when he shot Randolph Evans.

This form of mini-stroke had never appeared before, showed no signs of happening, and has not happened since.

After a thirteen-day trial, the jury found Torsney not guilty by reason of insanity and he was sentenced to a psychiatric hospital.

After 18 months, the doctor released Torsney from care stating: “We find he suffers from no mental disease since he has been with us.”

The appeals court tried to block his release, but the defense argued that the mental health institutions are not a safeguard to a miscarriage of justice.



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