A police officer was indicted yesterday in the fatal shooting of a black teenager in Teaneck, N.J., seven months after the incident sparked a melee and divided the affluent New York City suburb along racial lines.
After months of eyewitness testimony, a second grand jury found that Teaneck Officer Gary Spath "recklessly" caused the death of Phillip C. Pannell, 16, April 10, state Attorney General Robert Del Tufo said.
"The events of April 10 are tragic, for the deceased and his family, for Officer Spath and for society as a whole," Del Tufo said in a statement. "The issues raised are difficult, complex and far-reaching."
An arraignment date is expected to be set today, and Spath, 29, faces a possible 10-year prison sentence if convicted on the reckless manslaughter charge, an official in Del Tufo's office said.
Spath, who is white, shot Pannell once in the back during a chase on foot, authorities said. The incident sparked a melee at a memorial service the next day, and some black residents said Pannell's death was racially motivated.
Spath's attorney has said the officer fired because he felt threatened by Pannell, who police said had a modified athletic starter pistol in his pocket. Witnesses said Pannell's hands were raised when he was shot.
Del Tufo said a review of the autopsy showed that Pannell's hands were up at the time he was shot, although the medical examiner had testified that they were down. The first grand jury exonerated Spath, and Del Tufo convened the second, saying the medical examiner made "errors of major significance" that "contaminated" the investigation.