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Sunday, 27 January 2008

Christopher A. Ridley

Christopher A. Ridley, 23, was off duty and not in uniform when he witnessed a “violent, aggravated assault” shortly before 5 p.m. near Court Street and Martine Avenue in downtown White Plains, outside the district offices of the Westchester County Department of Social Services, said Frank G. Straub, the commissioner of public safety in White Plains.
Commissioner Straub and other officials provided few new details about the shooting in a news conference on Saturday. But two witnesses, a homeless couple who gave their names only as Cathy and Brian, said Officer Ridley had tried to break up a scuffle between two men and then failed to drop his gun when the Westchester officers arrived and ordered him to do so.
The couple was outside the social services building, at 85 Court Street, before the shooting. The building until recently was the site of a county drop-in center for homeless men, and homeless people still congregate near there, waiting for a van that comes at 5 p.m. to take them to shelters.
The witnesses said the events leading to Officer Ridley’s shooting began when a homeless man began beating up another man. Officer Ridley emerged from his vehicle to try to stop the fight. He briefly chased the homeless man, and the two began fighting outside the social services building. Officer Ridley’s gun, which a third witness said the officer grabbed from his vehicle and tucked into his waistband, fell to the ground during the scuffle and discharged, with the bullet striking concrete, the homeless couple said.
The gunshot brought county police officers to the scene, and by the time they arrived, Officer Ridley had picked up his gun, the couple said.
“They told him put the gun down three times, and he wouldn’t put the gun down,” said Cathy, 44. She said that Officer Ridley might have been disoriented from the fight and unable to hear the officers’ commands. “He might have been dazed,” she said.
At that point, Officer Ridley was shot; it was not clear how many Westchester County officers had come to the scene or fired their weapons. The officials at the news conference refused to take questions, and they did not release the names of the officers involved or confirm any of the witnesses’ accounts. “We will continue to interview witnesses, and when more information becomes available, we will provide that to you,” Commissioner Straub said.
The authorities identified the man that Officer Ridley was trying to arrest as Anthony Jacobs, 39. They did not say whether Mr. Jacobs was in custody on Saturday.
Earlier, at a news conference outside the White Plains police headquarters, the Rev. Al Sharpton stood with members of Officer Ridley’s family and called for an investigation to determine whether the shooting was justified.
“Just as we are calling on the community not to rush to judgment, the police should not rush to judgment,” Mr. Sharpton said as he stood next to Stanley Ridley, Officer Ridley’s father. “There ought not to be a rush to judgment on either side.”
The authorities have not identified the races of the county officers who were involved in the confrontation. Officer Ridley was black, and Mr. Sharpton said: “I do not know if race played any issue at all as of yet. I do not know. We don’t rule it out or in.”
The chaotic scene unfolded on Friday in a bustling section of White Plains, where serious crimes like murder, robberies and assaults have dropped to their lowest levels in decades.
“I think it was simply a case where a police officer who was in the immediate area is witnessing an altercation in the street, and he did what every good policeman should do, which is to get involved and assist,” said Mayor Joseph M. Delfino of White Plains. “And after that, everything went bad.” He added, “This was a tragedy.
Mr. Jacobs is known by workers in the area for wandering the streets and rummaging through garbage. Keith Stewart, 47, who works as a medical assistant for a chiropractor, said he knew him only as “Twin.” Mr. Stewart said Mr. Jacobs got the nickname because he had a twin brother. The brother died, he said, and Twin had not been the same since.
“He’d talk to himself,” Mr. Stewart said. “He needs help. He needs to be in a hospital.”
The authorities said Mr. Jacobs’s address was 25 Operations Drive in Westchester County. That address is listed as the site of a homeless shelter in Valhalla run by the Volunteers of America.
Mr. Jacobs spent five years at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining for a 1998 felony burglary conviction and was released on parole in 2004, according to state criminal records.
Westchester County police officials and the Westchester County district attorney, Janet DiFiore, asked the White Plains police to conduct the investigation into Officer Ridley’s death because of the county officers’ role in the shooting.
David Chong, the police commissioner in Mount Vernon, which borders the Bronx in southern Westchester, said he was confident that the White Plains police and the district attorney’s office would conduct “a thorough and unbiased investigation.”
Officer Ridley joined the Mount Vernon Police Department on Jan. 9, 2006. He was assigned to the patrol division.
He was remembered by fellow officers and friends as an enthusiastic and inquisitive policeman who was a disc jockey in his free time and was active at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, where his father worked as the head custodian and Officer Ridley served as a youth mentor.


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