A New York prosecutor involved in the slaying of Ousmane Arbery told a court he had been confronted by three people because of the colour of his skin and that they were “profiled” because they were “walking down the street with a Black man”.
Andrew Sussman, a prosecutor in Manhattan, told jurors on Thursday that he had been returning to the 96th precinct stationhouse after attending the roll call when he encountered three male Hispanic suspects in their twenties.
“All three of them had their back turned to me,” Sussman said in describing how the suspects responded to him. “One of them asked me, ‘Why did you run down the street with him?’”
Sussman said he told the men “I didn’t want them to think I was getting a ride with him, so I hadn’t taken a ride.” The defendants responded with “very aggressive barbs,” Sussman said. “One guy held me by the arm.”
“They began to get very, very angry,” Sussman said, “in fact spitting on me.” Sussman said he began to take his clothes off as a precaution, including his shoes, as he tried to convince the defendants that he was not a stranger to the neighbourhood, that Arbery had died in a “horrible accident” and that “I was the guy who had to go to his funeral.”
“A detective got in between us and said, ‘Listen guys, let him finish his words’,” Sussman said. “So I said, ‘OK. I’m done.’ I got back into my car and immediately called the dispatchers and told them, ‘I’m getting a report of someone getting assaulted by black men.’”
“It’s unfortunate that a real estate developer died this way,” he added, “but that doesn’t change the fact that he was running down the street as a Black man with nowhere to go.”
The accusations against Sussman prompted the Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr to summon him to testify. Vance said on Thursday that “it appears the prosecutor’s testimony distorts an important facet of Mr Arbery’s life and, ultimately, undermines the important safety goal of the community, which is to make sure that nobody walks the streets alone.”
Vance called for an immediate suspension of Sussman, whom he appointed as a special prosecutor in the 2005 trial of Syed Rizwan Farook. In that case, which was reviewed by the US supreme court, Sussman found Rizwan Farook not guilty of the first-degree murder of 14-year-old Yusuf Hawkins, who was struck by a pickup truck in 2011. Vance said he planned to review his office’s handling of the case.
Sussman’s wife, Ijeoma Arnette, founded a legal charity called JUSTICE, which helps victims of police brutality, according to its website.
In defending himself in court, Sussman said he had no memory of the incident after his arrest but that he had conducted extensive research on the case. He said his report had concluded “the suspects were in a rough area of the 97th precinct and had been homeless and abandoned” and that they had been tossed out of an empty Bronx apartment because it “was not a safe place for them to stay”.
The Manhattan prosecutors sought a conviction against the defendants for unlawful imprisonment, assault and weapons possession. The defendants face possible life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.