PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Two white police officers have been cleared by a grand jury in the death of a black off-duty officer whom they mistook for a suspect. The shooting sparked city protests by blacks and a federal civil rights probe.
The grand jury spent about two months reviewing the conduct of Officers Michael Solitro and Carlos Saraiva in the death of Sgt. Cornel Young Jr., 29, before deciding no criminal charges were warranted.
''No one in this world knows more about what happened that night than the investigators, prosecutors and members of the grand jury who heard so much evidence,'' Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse said Tuesday.
Young, whose father is the highest-ranking black on the Providence force, was in street clothes when he stopped at a diner after midnight on Jan. 28. Two women started to fight, and the manager ordered everyone outside. When the two officers arrived, a man with a gun confronted them.
Young saw the confrontation unfolding, drew his own gun and rushed outside to help the officers. But the officers said Young did not identify himself as a policeman and did not respond to their repeated calls to drop his weapon, so they fired on him.
The officers' defenders say inexperience played a big role in the shooting. Solitro had been on patrol just seven nights. His partner, Saraiva, had been on the force three years.
Civil rights leaders held a series of protests, rallies and prayer meetings, demanding someone with no ties to Rhode Island law enforcement investigate the case. Whitehouse refused, saying it was his responsibility as the state's top prosecutor to lead the inquiry.
The issue reached Washington where Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., asked the Congressional Black Caucus to examine the case. Kennedy planned to meet with civil rights leaders today.
The police union insisted Young's shooting was a case of a bad split-second decision, not prejudice. They issued a statement Tuesday accusing some community leaders of using the tragedy to further their own agendas ''with disregard of the truth.''
Police Maj. Cornel Young Sr., Young's father, said the investigation was fair and he was focused on preventing similar tragedies.
''I'm not saying that my son did anything wrong because he and I talked about this scenario many times, but I don't think police addressed this issue much before,'' he said.
Young's mother, Leisa, said she was angry she had to learn of the ruling from reporters. ''How much trust am I supposed to put in the fact that they're going to do anything else?'' she said as she left a meeting with ministers at the Allen A.M.E. church.
Bill Fischer, a Whitehouse aide, said the attorney general could not reach her before the news conference.
Both officers have been on leave from the department. Attorney Joseph Pezza, the lawyer for Solitro, 33, said the officer was relieved and hoped soon to return to work. ''He was very emotional,'' Pezza said. ''He hoped the truth would come out.''
Attorney Joseph F. Penza Jr. said his client, Saraiva, 30, was unsure whether he should return. ''In his own mind, the actions he took were justified,'' Penza said. ''But only he knows if he can go back and do his job."
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