Amidou Diallo stories

The New York Times

February 5, 1999, Friday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 1; Column 1; Metropolitan Desk 
LENGTH: 1386 words
HEADLINE: Officers in Bronx Fire 41 Shots, And an Unarmed Man Is Killed

   An unarmed West African immigrant with no criminal record was killed early yesterday by four New York City police officers who fired 41 shots at him in the doorway of his Bronx apartment building, the police said.

It was unclear yesterday why the police officers had opened fire on the man at 12:44 A.M. in the vestibule of his building at 1157 Wheeler Avenue in the Soundview section. The man, Amadou Diallo, 22, who came to America more than two years ago from Guinea and worked as a street peddler in Manhattan, died at the scene, the police said.

The Bronx District Attorney's office is investigating the shooting, whose details were still murky last night because there were apparently no civilian witnesses and none of the police officers involved had given statements to investigators. But Inspector Michael Collins, a police spokesman, said that investigators who went to the scene of the shooting did not find a weapon on or near Mr. Diallo.

Relatives and neighbors described Mr. Diallo as a shy, hard-working man with a ready smile, a devout Muslim who did not smoke or drink.

"I am very angry," said his uncle, Mamadou Diallo. "He was a skinny guy. Why would the police shoot somebody of that nature 30 or 40 times? We see the police and we give them all the respect we have."

A friend, Demba Sanyang, 39, said: "We have a very undemocratic society back home, and then we come here. We don't expect to be killed by law enforcement officers."

The four officers involved in the shooting were assigned to the aggressive Street Crimes Unit, which focuses largely on taking illegal guns off the street. All four officers, who were in plainclothes, used their 9-millimeter semiautomatic service pistols, which hold 16 bullets and can discharge all of them in seconds.

Two of the officers, Sean Carroll, 35, and Edward McMellon, 26, emptied their weapons, firing 16 shots each, the police said. Officer Kenneth Boss, 27, fired his gun five times and Officer Richard Murphy, 26, fired four times.

All four have been put on administrative leave, which is standard practice after a police shooting.

Three of the officers -- Officers Carroll, McMellon and Boss -- have been involved in shootings before, which is unusual in a department where more than 90 percent of all officers never fire their weapons in the line of duty. In those previous incidents, Officers Carroll and McMellon were found to have acted properly, the police said; the case of Officer Boss -- he shot and killed a man said to be armed with a shotgun on Oct. 31, 1997, in Brooklyn -- is still being reviewed by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office.

Police rules on when officers can fire their guns are explicit: deadly force can be used only when officers fear for their lives or the lives of others. But once they decide to shoot, officers are trained to fire until they "stop" the target from causing harm. They are told not to fire warning shots, and to aim for the center of the body, not arms or legs.

Police officials said it was unclear whether the circumstances of the confrontation between Mr. Diallo and the officers justified such a shooting. What the police say is known is that the four officers were patrolling Mr. Diallo's neighborhood yesterday morning in an unmarked car in the hope that they would make arrests and in the process turn up information about a serial rapist in the area.

At a quarter to one, the officers encountered Mr. Diallo. All four got out of the car and approached him as he stood in the vestibule of his building, the police said.

A police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that a neighbor reported after the shooting that he had noticed a man, who the police believe was Mr. Diallo, loitering in the vestibule. The man described him as "acting suspicious," said the official, who did not elaborate.

The officers did not communicate over their radios before they approached Mr. Diallo, the police said, so investigators said they did not know what prompted their initial interest in him.

Nor is it known why the officers began firing. A second police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, "We don't know what happened, because we haven't spoken to them, but it looks like one guy may have panicked and the rest followed suit."

After the shooting the officers called in on their radios, the police said, and neighbors telephoned 911. Soon other officers arrived on the scene, followed by detectives and the ranking officers who are required to respond to all police shootings.

An investigation began, and no weapon was found on Mr. Diallo, Inspector Collins said.

A pager and a wallet were found lying next to the body, a police official said, adding that it was unclear whether the officers could have mistaken the pager for a weapon.

Mr. Diallo had lived in New York for two and a half years. A member of the Fulani ethnic group, he came from a village called Lelouma and followed relatives who had moved here. He worked as a street peddler, selling socks, gloves and videos on 14th Street in Manhattan. He sent much of the money he earned to his parents back home, friends said.

Yesterday, Mr. Diallo arrived home from work around midnight, said his roommate, Momodou Kujabi. The two men discussed who was going to pay the Con Edison bill, and then Mr. Diallo turned on the television and Mr. Kujabi went to bed. Another roommate, Mr. Diallo's cousin, Abdou Rahman Diallo, was already asleep.

Mr. Kujabi said he thought Mr. Diallo might have gone out for something to eat, as he often did after coming home from work.

Then came the shots, and a knock on the door, he said. It was the police.

Mr. Kujabi said that the officers brought him down to the vestibule to identify his friend's body. "I said, 'How can this happen?' " Mr. Kujabi recalled telling the officers. " 'I left this guy less than 30 minutes ago.' "

An autopsy found that Mr. Diallo died of multiple gunshot wounds to the torso, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the Chief Medical Examiner's Office. Further tests are required to learn how many wounds there were and where the bullets entered his body, she said.

Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney's office, said the shooting was being investigated would probably be taken up by a grand jury.

Stuart London, a lawyer representing the officers, said that he was still trying to determine the facts of the case. "It would be premature to comment," he said.

And Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani urged people to withhold judgment on the case. "We've had terrible mistakes in this city when people have reacted to rumors and intuitions and feelings," he said. "Let's let the situation run its course and then let's react to the facts."

But Kyle Waters, a lawyer representing Mr. Diallo's family, said he was concerned that the police officers may have overreacted to Mr. Diallo. "There was nothing to indicate that he was a criminal, nothing to indicate that he had a weapon," he said. "For him to be sent back to his homeland in Guinea in a box is a horrible tragedy."

State Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, who represents the area, called the shooting "outrageous," adding that it was clear that excessive force was used.

Mayor Giuliani said the circumstances of the shooting were unclear because the officers involved had invoked what is known as the 48-hour rule, which gives police officers two business days to consult with their union lawyers before they speak to investigators.

But police officials said that was not the case; instead, they said, they have not spoken to the officers because the Bronx District Attorney's office asked them not to. That is common practice in police shootings.

When prosecutors pursue possible criminal charges, police officers, like other citizens, can invoke their right against self-incrimination and decline to talk. The 48-hour rule comes into play when the Police Department pursues possible administrative charges. Officers in such an investigation are required to answer questions after the 48-hour respite, or face dismissal.

Yesterday, relatives began making plans to return the body of Mr. Diallo to his parents in the village of Lelouma. "I think there is no reason to shoot someone more than 30 times," said Mamadou Diallo.

GRAPHIC: Photos: Demba Sanyang, wearing a hat, looked at the doorway where his friend Amadou Diallo, 22, was shot to death by officers early yesterday. (Richard L. Harbus for The New York Times)(pg. A1); Friends gathered yesterday at the Bronx apartment of Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times by officers. Abdou Rahman Diallo, in sweatshirt, is a cousin and a roommate of the dead man, who was a Guinea native. (Richard L. Harbus for The New York Times)(pg. B5)
Map of the Bronx showing location of the shooting: Many African immigrants live in the Soundview neighborhood. (pg. B5)      

The New York Post

March 30, 1999, Tuesday

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LENGTH: 1217 words


BYLINE: Murray Weiss Criminal Justice Editor

   THE four cops who killed Amadou Diallo will tell a story of that fateful night that begins with a suspicious figure in a dark doorway and ends seconds later with cops in tears.

It is the story the city has been waiting to hear since Diallo was killed in a hail of police bullets seven weeks ago - the story of the four Street Crime Unit officers charged with murdering him.

The heart of it all occurred in about eight seconds.

Based on interviews with law-enforcement officials and sources familiar with the case, and examination of police records and medical examiner's reports, this is that exclusive account:

About 11:45 p.m. Feb. 4, the four officers riding in a battered unmarked police car turned south onto Wheeler Avenue in the Soundview section of The Bronx.

Kenneth Boss Jr., 27, was behind the wheel. Edward McMellon, 26, was next to him. Sean Carroll, 35, was behind McMellon; Richard Murphy, 26, sat behind Boss.

The officers were on patrol, looking for a vicious rapist who had struck nearly 30 times in six years in The Bronx and upper Manhattan.

They were also looking for people with guns, the primary mission of the unit. And they were aware that the NYPD had established a successful Model Block program on nearby Elder Avenue that had driven dealers to nearby streets, operating out of doorways.

As they rolled along, they spotted the figure of a slight man standing atop a short, five-step stoop in the doorway of 1157 Wheeler. He was pacing and fidgeting, and seemed suspicious.

He also seemed suspicious to a passer-by who lived on the block and later was questioned by investigators.

The officers did their job - the frightening task they volunteer for by joining the special unit.

Rather than drive past the suspicious man, they stopped their car to question him. Their actions have taken thousands of guns off the streets, and contributed mightily to the city's crime decline. But their searches have become the subject of controversy.

McMellon and Carroll got out on the right side of the car, closest to the man in the doorway, later identified as Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant making a living as a downtown Manhattan street peddler.

The two officers began walking toward Diallo. They had their badges dangling from their necks.

At one point, McMellon unholstered his 9mm semiautomatic, and kept it pressed along his right thigh, pointing down toward the sidewalk, exactly as he was taught in the Police Academy.

He and Carroll identified themselves as police officers several times as they neared the stoop.

"Police. Hold it. Stay there," they say.

It is impossible to know what Diallo was thinking. It has been suggested he may have thought they were immigration agents seeking to quiz him about the false statements he made on the Immigration and Naturalization application that allowed him to stay in the United States.

Perhaps he simply was afraid of four armed men he did not know.

He turned away from McMellon and Carroll and stepped quickly into the 8-foot deep vestibule - contrary to their demand. He was now standing with his back to the officers and appeared to be trying to open the interior door to get away.

"Come out and keep your hands where we can see them," one cop says. "Show us your hands."

McMellon has climbed to the top of the stoop. Carroll is to McMellon's right walking up the steps.

Still without saying a word, Diallo now begins to turn to his left and toward the cops. Rather than showing his empty hands, Diallo begins reaching with his right hand into a pocket. At midnight on Wheeler Avenue, the cops feared he was reaching for a gun.

Diallo sadly played into that fear - he began to pull out something black in his right hand.

Carroll believes he sees a gun, now confirming a worst-case scenario.

"Gun!" Carroll yells. "He's got a gun!"

Numerous witnesses have testified to hearing Carroll's cry.

McMellon now also believes Diallo is pulling a gun on him - at point-blank range.

McMellon raises his weapon and squeezes off three shots at Diallo.

Instinctively, the cop tries to step back, but there is no footing and he falls off the stoop, arms raised over his head. He lands solidly on the base of his spine, cracking the tailbone.

For a brief moment, there is no gunfire - a pause that other witnesses have told about.

Carroll, hearing the shots and seeing McMellon fall back as if he had been shot, dives to his right, takes out his weapon and begins to fire at Diallo.

The flash from the gun barrels lights up the vestibule - perhaps reflecting off the glass - giving the impression a full-blown firefight is taking place.

Carroll begins to retreat and empties the rest of his 16-shot 9mm revolver.

Boss hears the gunfire, looks to his right, gets out of the car and sees McMellon down on his back. McMellon is trying to wiggle away from the stoop while lifting his head and arms and firing again at Diallo.

Boss runs around the front of the car - into what he thinks is a furious gunfight - to save his comrade. He suddenly sees Diallo's figure crouched in the doorway - and he fires. Five times.

Murphy, who has come around the rear of the car, also rushes forward to defend McMellon and Carroll. He takes out his weapon, fires four shots into the vestibule and then dives to the right out of harm's way.

The fusillade - 41 shots in all - left Diallo pinned in a corner of the vestibule. Nineteen of the NYPD full-metal-jacket bullets pierced his body, tearing organs but never knocking him down.

When the eight to 10 seconds of gunfire ended, the officers quickly asked each other if they were hit. Then they radioed for an ambulance for the man in the vestibule.

Boss and Carroll went up the steps to check on Diallo and get his gun. But there was no weapon - only his black wallet, lying in his blood 18 inches from his right hand. There was also a shattered beeper. Carroll pressed hard several times on Diallo's chest to administer CPR before paramedics arrived.

The terrible truth had kicked in. They had made an irreversible, tragic, but honest mistake. They went into shock.

McMellon paced wildly back and forth, throwing his hat on the ground and kicking at it.

Carroll began to cry openly on the sidewalk, crouching and rubbing his eyes not far from Diallo's bullet-riddled body.

Murphy wiped tears from his eyes, trying to rub away the shock of knowing an innocent man was killed.

Boss climbed into the back of an arriving cop car and stared into space. When a supervisor leaned in and asked if he was all right, the best Boss could muster was a slight motion of a hand.

The officers desperately wanted to tell their stories to the grand jury, but their lawyers advised against it because of the swirling emotional and political climate.

The lawyers have all declined to comment on The Post's report, saying they will provide their accounts at the trial.


The New York Post

February 3, 2000, Thursday

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LENGTH: 576 words




   ALBANY -- Prosecutors came out swinging in dramatic opening statements in the Amadou Diallo trial yesterday, claiming four NYPD cops callously fired 41 shots at the unarmed man even as he fell to the ground.

Four bullets fell out of Diallo's body as he was lifted off the bloody carpet in his Bronx apartment vestibule, a prosecution witness later revealed -- suggesting that the last bullets to strike him had no chance to exit the West African immigrant's body, because he was already down.

"A human being should have been able to stand in the vestibule of his own home and not be shot to death," lead prosecutor Eric Warner told jurors.

"Especially when those doing the shooting are police officers."

"We do not believe these four defendants woke up that morning and came on duty that night intending to kill. But when they got there, they made a conscious decision to shoot a man," Warner added.

But the cops' lawyers landed their own punches in four brisk, coordinated openings.

They repeatedly stated the shooting was a "mistake," an "accident" and a "tragedy."

"The district attorney wasn't on Wheeler Street at 12:40 a.m. on February 4th," said James Culleton, lawyer for Officer Richard Murphy, referring to the time and address of the racially charged shooting.

In their version, Diallo unwittingly contributed to his own death by acting "suspicious," trying to avoid the officers, then reaching for his wallet as the cops shouted at him to hold up his hands.

"The officers identified themselves with their shields [badges] out ... Mr. Diallo doesn't listen to their orders to stop, which they are trained to give," said Bennett Epstein, Sean Carroll's lawyer.

Carroll, after realizing the mistake, tried to resuscitate Diallo, saying, "Don't die, please don't die."

But in implicating Diallo, the defense earned the ire of the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"The inference is that he caused what happened," Sharpton said, adding the charge "pours salt in the wounds" of Diallo's grieving mother, Kadiatou.

The defense also scored some important, early tactical victories in their battering cross-examinations of the prosecution's first witness -- the crime scene cop whose pen and camera helped catalog the bloody, bullet-ridden shooting site.

Defense lawyers lit into Detective Joseph Flannino, saying he reached the crime scene an hour after the shooting, allowing time for the scene to become "tainted."

They also mocked Flannino's brightly illuminated crime scene photos, and how he used them to back his claim that the pre-dawn Bronx street -- and the vestibule where Diallo died reaching for what turned out to be his wallet -- had "satisfactory" lighting.

Also yesterday, the jury of four black women, two white women, and six white men sat poker-faced as they viewed Flannino's graphic pictures of Diallo's body -- although some held a hand to their face or appeared to grit their teeth.

GRAPHIC: THEIR ANGUISH: Sakiou (second from left) and Kadiatou Diallo, the parents of slain Amadou Diallo, enter court yesterday with family advisers, including the Rev. Al Sharpton (left). AP

DAY IN COURT: Clockwise from left: Defense attorney Steven Brounstein pleads the case of Kenneth Boss; Assistant DA Eric Warner presents the state's explosive case; defendants (above, from left) Richard Murphy, Sean Carroll and Edward McMellon arrive at court; and Judge Joseph Teresi listens to the arguments. AP; Alan Solomon

The New York Post

February 9, 2000, Wednesday

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LENGTH: 471 words




   ALBANY -- Four Bronx cops kept firing -- up to 15 shots -- at Amadou Diallo, even after he had crumpled to the floor with his spine severed and his chest filled with blood, a pathologist testified yesterday.

Diallo was hit even after he was paralyzed from the chest down from one of the first of the 19 police bullets to hit him, Dr. Joseph Cohen told jurors, testifying as the final witness for the Bronx district attorney.

The unarmed West African street peddler suffered nearly all of his injuries as he was "on the way down, or down," from that early bullet -- which had hit Diallo square in the front of his chest, Cohen told jurors.

The bullet drilled an inch-and-a-half-wide hole in his aorta, the body's largest artery, then pierced his spine before passing through him, Cohen said.

"Mr. Diallo not only had a rapid drop in blood pressure ... but he also developed instantaneously an inability to support himself" upright, said Cohen, who conducted Diallo's autopsy for the city medical examiner's office. He would have fallen to the ground in "probably on the order of a second, plus or minus," Cohen said.

Nearly all of the other 18 wounds -- 15 of them from bullets that struck Diallo's left side and passed through his right side -- show too little bleeding to have preceded the aorta wound, Cohen said.

"He could have been on the ground for all those 15 shots," Cohen said.

Three other bullets help prove he was shot while he was down, Cohen said.

One, traced through ballistics to Officer Sean Carroll, traveled up his right shin, lodging behind his knee. Another traveled up his left shin before exiting. The third entered the bottom sole of his right sneaker, piercing the middle toe, then exiting from the top of the sneaker.

Prosecutors used the damaging, daylong account to close their case against the four cops on trial for allegedly murdering Diallo after mistaking him for an armed rape suspect as he stood at the door to his Bronx apartment last February.

Lawyers for the cops -- who begin their case today -- fought the damaging autopsy testimony bullet by bullet, with Albany Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi having to repeatedly warn them to lower their voices.

Stephen Worth, lawyer for Edward McMellon, demanded that Cohen explain how Diallo could have been shot straight on in the chest, and then -- although paralyzed -- have turned to expose his left side to 15 more bullets, only to land on the vestibule floor with his left side facing away from the shooting.

Diallo's mother, Kadiatou, who has appeared in court every day for two weeks, stayed in her hotel room yesterday.

GRAPHIC: A BRONX TALE: Carol Taylor of The Bronx demonstrates yesterday outside the Albany County Courthouse, where four police officers are on trial in the slaying of Amadou Diallo. AP

The New York Post

February 16, 2000, Wednesday

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LENGTH: 515 words




   ALBANY -- The two cops who fired the fewest bullets at Amadou Diallo testified yesterday that they were so convinced he had a gun, one thought, "I'm going to die," and the other felt "sick to my stomach."

Officers Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy insisted that in a "dimly lit" Bronx vestibule -- and in the confused few seconds that four cops fired 41 shots -- they saw what appeared to be a gun clutched in Diallo's right hand.

They were later shaken to find it was only a wallet.

Diallo crouched into what Boss called a "combat stance" during the shooting, further fueling their fears.

Boss, last to emerge from the anti-crime cops' idling unmarked car, said he saw Diallo in the rear of the vestibule of his apartment building.

"He's crouched. He's got his hand out. He's got a gun," Boss said of Diallo, his panicky voice mirroring the staccato of the shooting.

"And I said, aeOh, my God, I'm going to die.'"

The dramatic testimony by Boss, who fired five times, and Murphy, who fired four times, follows the nearly identical explanations of the other two cops on trial for murder for the shooting on Feb. 4, 1999, of the unarmed West African street peddler.

Jurors have heard Boss, Murphy, and officers Sean Carroll and Edward McMellon -- who fired 16 rounds each -- describe without contradiction how Diallo appeared to be a threat throughout the fatal fusillade, waving his arms even as he slid down into the crouch.

Bronx prosecutors tried in vain during tense cross-examinations to goad the officers to become angry or contradict one another.

In his questioning of the officers, Assistant District Attorney Donald Levin began laying the ground for arguments that the cops could have taken cover and merely watched Diallo as he stood trapped in the vestibule -- and therefore weren't in as much danger as they claimed.

But jurors have also heard some of the emotion behind the facts. Yesterday they heard the 911 tape in which Boss frantically shouts into a police radio after the shooting, "Get me a bus and a boss, forthwith!" meaning an ambulance for Diallo.

Carroll alone has broken down and cried on the stand.

But Boss and Murphy each described their raw fear at hearing gunfire erupt while seeing McMellon fall backward off Diallo's stoop -- thinking their partner was hit -- and Carroll "scrambling" to back away from what they all believed was a gunman.

Murphy testified: "I got this sick feeling in my stomach ... I seen the gun in [Diallo's] hand ... I felt like I'm going to be hit."

"It was frantic ... it was intense," Boss said. "Ed was on the ground; the shots were still going on ... Ed was shot, that's all I could see."

The New York Post

February 23, 2000, Wednesday

SECTION: All Editions; Pg. 006

LENGTH: 543 words


BYLINE: Laura Italiano Post Correspondent


   ALBANY -- Amadou Diallo perished "frightened to death" in an indefensible, point-blank barrage of 41 police bullets, prosecutors said yesterday, capping the three-week murder trial of four Bronx cops.

Alternately shouting, swinging his fist and pounding a podium, lead prosecutor Eric Warner devoted two hours to blistering closing statements to jurors -- who will begin deliberating today on murder charges that could put the cops behind bars for life.

"Somewhere on this night, they lost sight of Amadou Diallo's humanity," Warner said, blasting the cops' "flimsy suspicions" that Diallo was a rapist, robber, or hostage taker -- and their "pat" lockstep excuse that they fired after mistaking the wallet he pulled from his pocket for a gun.

Diallo's mother, Kadiatou, who has attended each day, gave repeated little nods of agreement.

"They painted him as someone they needed to fear -- then they acted on a fear of their own making," Warner said of the cops. "Now, they have to pay for it."

Defense lawyers gave their own impassioned closings yesterday -- all repeating what's become their mantra: "It's a tragedy, not a crime."

"These guys were not simply executioners," said John Patten, lawyer for Sean Carroll.

At one point, Patten brandished a .25-caliber starting pistol and Diallo's black wallet, to show their similarity in size, color and shape.

Steven Brounstein, lawyer for Officer Kenneth Boss, spoke of a memorial in Battery Park engraved with the names of cops killed in the line of duty -- saying that if Diallo had had a gun as the cops feared, their names could have wound up on that wall, "not on an indictment."

In their closings, defense lawyers insisted the cops identified themselves to Diallo, who then refused their demands to stop and show his hands -- something not one of 10 civilian witnesses confirmed.

A civilian witness, Schrrie Elliott -- who admits to distrusting cops -- confirmed Carroll shouted "He has a gun!" before the barrage, which was over in seconds.

Prosecutors got the last word yesterday, telling jurors that even the defense's pathologist conceded that a bullet -- traced to Carroll's gun -- rode up Diallo's right leg and must have been fired when Diallo was down, Warner said.

"That's the total number of shots," Warner said -- beginning his dramatic, two-hour statement by holding up a "4" and a "1" he'd drawn with a squeaky marker on separate sheets of paper.

"It also stands for four against one," he added. "That's four armed, trained, police officers wearing protective vests and having the advantage of surprise," Warner continued.

"Either way, Amadou Diallo never stood a chance."

Warner also condemned the defense for shifting blame onto Diallo for acting suspicious and ignoring "commands" when in fact he was "frightened to death" by the officers.

"He didn't do anything wrong -- and they didn't do anything right," Warner said.

GRAPHIC: KEY EVIDENCE: Bronx Assistant DA Eric Warner (above) waves the wallet Amadou Diallo was clutching when cops gunned him down in a hail of 41 bullets. Defense lawyer John Patten (right) tries to show how cops might have mistaken the wallet for a weapon by holding a starter's pistol during closing arguments yesterday. AP


The New York Post

March 1, 2000, Wednesday

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LENGTH: 1024 words


BYLINE: Eric Fettmann


   OF all the many emotion-filled reactions to the acquittals of the four NYPD officers in the Amadou Diallo case, the most difficult to understand is the one that was heard most often: shock and bewilderment.

After all, to hear Al Sharpton tell it, the relocation of the trial from The Bronx to Albany -- a change of venue which his antics precipitated -- guaranteed a "not-guilty" verdict. And those who supported the officers maintained from the beginning that when the evidence was heard and the law applied, there was no way the four cops could be convicted.

Meanwhile, those legal experts who watched the trial on television and analyzed the case were almost unanimous in predicting that the officers would be acquitted.

So why is everyone surprised?

Bronx DA Robert Johnson continues to defend his handling of the case. But Johnson's biggest problem was not the tactical decisions employed at the trial -- not cross-examining criminologist James Phyfe, for example, or demanding that the jury be taken to the death scene. Floyd Flake is wrong when, echoing others, he complains of "the failure of the prosecution to make a forceful or passionate case."

The biggest error Johnson made in this case was bringing a second-degree murder indictment in the first place with absolutely no evidence to back it up. Incredibly, Johnson blames the officers themselves for the indictment, citing their refusal to testify before the grand jury.

"Because all four chose to exercise their right not to tell their story to us or the grand jurors," he wrote, "the uncontroverted evidence established that the officers shot Diallo to death intentionally and without justification."

But it's difficult to believe that Johnson wouldn't have pressed for an indictment had the cops agreed to testify. After all, he'd outrageously compared Diallo's death to a drive-by shooting, saying the cops were no different "than any other individuals who roll up beside a building and open fire."

And, like Al Sharpton and Norman Siegel and all the others who have used this case as a weapon against Rudy Giuliani and the NYPD, Johnson declared that Diallo's death "has a context larger than the facts in this case."

Or, as Floyd Flake put it, "the ante was so high." That context has become pretty evident in the widespread protests over the verdict -- which, as the mayor correctly noted, has unleashed an orgy of police-bashing. In the streets today, police are being depicted as racist killers who gleefully go hunting for minorities -- although Johnson himself stated flatly that "we did not have any evidence that [the cops] actually were racially motivated."

More than that -- as Police Commissioner Howard Safir said, there was simply nothing to suggest that these four officers left their homes intending to gun down a suspect and Amadou Diallo got in their way. Even those who hoped for a conviction have to admit -- if they are fair -- that this shooting was a horrible mistake, even if they feel that the cops should bear some legal responsibility.

But those who elsewhere argue for due process have sought to deny it to these officers. They were judged guilty of murder from the get-go, by the ACLU and by Hillary Clinton. That pre-judgment, in contradiction of the facts and the law, can be seen in the demands for a federal civil-rights prosecution, despite all constitutional protections against double jeopardy.

Clearly, if this was a horrible mistake, the entire affair needs to be evaluated to ensure that it never happens again. But the post-verdict response has moved beyond honest calls for legitimate reform. The very real and understandable pain that many feel is being exploited into the same political vendetta that shaped the original response to Diallo's death.

Let's not forget that the massive protest marches and mass arrests of last spring featured signs comparing the NYPD to the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi SS. Or that Sharpton, returning from Africa after Diallo's funeral, openly boasted that "Amadou Diallo will be the end of Rudolph Giuliani's burgeoning political career."

Even Bill Bradley, who has taken it upon himself to be America's national scold on race, called Diallo's death an example of "racial profiling" -- even though, at the time of the shooting, he specifically avoided blaming police, saying, "It was not an act of senseless hatred. Rather, it was a grievous error."

Cops, it somehow seems necessary to say, are human. They make mistakes -- and those mistakes can sometimes have deadly consequences. But in the questions that are being asked -- and should be asked -- about why an unarmed, innocent man was shot to death, too many people are losing sight of the very real risks that cops take every day.

The old adage that "he who hesitates is lost" is especially true when it comes to police officers. Yes, Amadou Diallo died in a hail of bullets -- lasting no more than five seconds. It's these kind of split-second decisions that cops are forced to make every day -- with their own lives on the line, as well.

For all their outrage, neither Al Sharpton nor Calvin Butts nor Bill Bradley have offered any reasonable suggestions as to just how cops who believe someone is pulling a gun on them should respond -- in a way that protects their own lives as well as the suspect's.

The real fear is that if the NYPD is pressed from without -- especially if the U.S. Justice Dept. demands a federal monitor to oversee the department, as it is now considering -- the pendulum may swing too far in the wrong direction, as it often does when prompted by such emotional outpourings.

Ed Koch, no fan of Rudy Giuliani, said it best a few years ago: "If a cop is accused of brutality when making an arrest, the mayor must assume that the cop has engaged in the lawful use of appropriate force, unless circumstances are clearly to the contrary."

Otherwise, said the former mayor, "cops would turn away from arresting lawbreakers, many of whom charge brutality when none exists."