At about 8:30 a.m. on May 18, 2016, Garry Conrad was shot to death by NYPD officers outside a Food Emporium on Eighth Avenue and West 49th Street in Manhattan. Officers said they fired nine rounds at Conrad, a 46-year-old stagehand, after he lunged at them with what they described as an eight-inch folding knife.
James O’Neill, then the NYPD’s chief of department, issued an initial account of the incident that characterized Conrad as belligerent when approached by police. Subsequent media accounts hewed to a similar narrative.
“A 46 year old male entered the Food Emporium store at West 49th and 8th Ave, right behind us, and became aggressive and belligerent” O’Neill said shortly after Conrad’s death. “He was swearing at the people in the store, towards the workers in the store. A uniformed police officer on a foot post was alerted, and he confronted the male. The subject began to struggle with the officer, and they fell to the ground outside the store.”
But attorneys for Conrad’s brother Eric Conrad, who in July 2017 filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Civil Supreme Court against the city and three officers on behalf of his brother’s estate, say the actions of NYPD officer Kevin Gleason violated department protocol on engaging with “emotionally disturbed persons.” They also say that Gleason’s actions precipitated the confrontation that ended with the fatal shooting of Conrad. “Despite knowing that Mr. Conrad was an emotionally disturbed person,” attorneys wrote in a November filing, Gleason “had, without any provocation or basis, viciously attacked on [sic] him and thrown [sic] him to the ground only minutes” before he was killed.
Videos of the incident obtained by The Appeal seem to bolster some of the plaintiff’s claims. The videos show that Gleason pursued and tackled Conrad well after the altercation in the Food Emporium ended. Depositions filed in the case, including an eyewitness account of a bystander wounded in the shooting, suggest that Gleason provoked and even taunted Conrad. The depositions also point to discrepancies between Gleason’s accounts to investigators and his testimony in the lawsuit.
The city’s reply to the allegations has been limited at this stage of the lawsuit, but in a filing last year, they denied the plaintiff’s central claims and asserted that “any force used was justified under the circumstances.” Officer Adolfo Peralta and Sgt. Mark Amundson, the two officers who fired their weapons, were cleared in an internal use-of-force investigation. Because Gleason did not fire his weapon, his actions were not investigated by the department’s Force Investigation Division. The New York City Law Department, which defends officers in civil suits, did not respond to requests for comment from The Appeal.
According to an internal use-of-force investigation, at approximately 8:25 a.m. on May 18, a Food Emporium employee flagged down Gleason, who was posted nearby, and asked for help after Conrad was involved in an argument with staff. Employees told police that Conrad became verbally abusive after a cashier refused to sell him beer. Conrad shouted threats and racial slurs, and employees told him to leave the store. Video shows that Gleason arrived just as Conrad exited the premises.
Gleason followed Conrad to the street and, moments later, attempted to take him into custody, according to the internal use-of-force investigation. A scuffle ensued, and Conrad produced a folding knife. Officer Adolfo Peralta and Sgt. Mark Amundson then fired nine rounds after Conrad lunged at them with the knife.
In Gleason’s initial account to officials in the NYPD’s Force Investigation Division, he alleged that as Conrad exited the grocery store, he turned and “squared off” in a “fighting stance” while verbally threatening him. Gleason told investigators it was only then that he grabbed the strap on Conrad’s backpack and “pulled” him down to the ground. Conrad pulled a knife during the ensuing struggle, Gleason said.
Although the video has no audio and therefore doesn’t capture any alleged threats from Conrad, a previously unreleased surveillance video seems to contradict Gleason’s account. Footage from a camera in the Food Emporium lobby appears to show Gleason shove Conrad as the two walk through the market’s revolving doors. Footage from another angle appears to show that once outside, Conrad walks calmly away from Gleason just before the officer grabs his backpack and throws him to the ground. Conrad was only verbally abusive up to that point, and Gleason had never told him he was under arrest, according to Gleason’s statements in civil depositions in Eric Conrad’s lawsuit. The footage does not appear to show the fighting stance or other confrontational behavior, such as “balled fists,” that Gleason described to investigators.
Though an NYPD official cited the existence of surveillance video shortly after the incident, the footage was never released. Police later provided video to Conrad’s attorneys as part of Eric’s ongoing lawsuit, but a confidentiality agreement prevented their release. The videos were filed as exhibits in the case, though they were inaccessible through the court clerk, even though they were not filed under seal. The Appeal obtained the videos through the Office of Court Administration’s Technical Support team. The fatal shooting of Conrad was presented for possible criminal charges to a Manhattan grand jury, which in early 2017 declined to indict any of the officers involved.
A central argument in the case is whether Gleason considered Conrad to be an “emotionally disturbed person” or “EDP” when he made contact with him, which should have prompted the officer to call for backup, de-escalate the encounter, and create a “zone of safety” before attempting to take him into custody, according to NYPD patrol guide procedure.
Grace Telesco, a criminal justice professor and former NYPD police academy trainer, wrote a report in October as an expert witness for the plaintiffs. Telesco noted that Conrad’s ranting, threats, and “bizarre,” racially abusive language—according to Gleason, who is white, Conrad repeatedly called him the N-word—should have established his disturbed state of mind. The report also notes that in an NYPD internal use-of-force report Gleason described Conrad as “an EDP” shortly after the shooting.
“Officer Gleason stated the male’s balling of his fists, how he squared off, and his threatening to kill him, all while smiling, were indicators that he was an EDP,” the report notes.
But Gleason denied in civil depositions that he made that judgment, despite his initial statements to investigators.
After Conrad was tackled, video shows him scuffling briefly with Gleason. Witnesses and Gleason say Conrad then wielded a folding knife, a tool commonly used by stagehands, and stood, preparing to lunge at officers. When Conrad advanced on the officers, two opened fire. Police fired a total of nine shots, one of which struck a bystander, Lauran Code, in the wrist.
According to a deposition Code gave in connection to a separate lawsuit against the city filed in federal court in 2017, Code stood “three or four feet” from Conrad and Gleason when the confrontation began, and heard the officer taunt Conrad before he tackled him.
“I heard the man [Conrad] say, Can I go now?” Code said in her deposition. “The officer said, You really want to take me on? He [Conrad] said, No. He turned around and started to walk away.”
“Mr. Conrad was not doing anything,” Code added. “He was not threatening anyone. He did not have a weapon out. He was not—he was not doing anything.”
In Code’s complaint, her attorneys wrote that the officers “randomly and indiscriminately discharged their weapons in an attempt to shoot Gary [sic] Conrad, an emotionally disturbed person (‘EDP’) who, prior to being violently tackled by the NYPD, posed no threat of danger to anyone and was attempting to leave the scene.”
Her lawsuit was settled in late 2018 for $1.95 million.
Eric testified in a deposition that he saw a “change” in his brother after a mugging years earlier in which he was beaten with a baseball bat and suffered serious head injuries. Conrad’s parents and co-workers, interviewed after the incident by police investigators, all cited the assault and its effect on Conrad’s mental state.
Co-workers who spoke with police investigators described Conrad as friendly, but a loner. They said he sometimes had a temper, which had worsened since the mugging. A supervisor in the stagehand’s union, Jimmy Maloney, told police that Conrad had been “drinking heavily” in the years after the mugging and “would often argue with patrons at the bars late at night.”
Although initial media reports said Conrad was drunk when police killed him—a co-worker told an ABC affiliate that Conrad showed up at work drunk and walked to the Food Emporium to obtain more alcohol—autopsy results showed no drugs or alcohol in his system.
Code said in her civil deposition that she still experiences acute physical pain in her wrist, which still requires treatment, as well as lingering emotional effects.
“You know, you like to think that when you see something wrong, you’ll help people,” she said. “And you know, it’s—it’s hard on me that I didn’t help him because maybe I could have saved his life.”