When a police officer is killed in the line of duty we must make a determined effort to pursue the maximum penalty permissible under law.
This is precisely what we are asking of the Bronx District Attorney's office in the case against the accused killer of Police Officer Vincent Guidice. We are not asking the DA to exceed permissible discretion by bringing a charge of first degree murder, which is punishable by capital punishment. Although there is an emotional argument to be made for that charge, that would be asking the DA to step beyond his area of discretion under the facts as presently known and the existing law.
However, from the onset of this case, the DA's office has demonstrated a reluctance to seek the most serious charge permissible under law. Despite evidence to support a charge of second degree murder, the DA chose to drop the charge down two degrees, -- ignoring manslaughter in the first degree -- seeking instead a watered down charge of manslaughter in the second degree, which presents the possibility of parole.
Then the DA's presentation to the Grand Jury resulted in a rejection of the second degree manslaughter charge in favor of a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide -- meaning that if convicted, the defendant could in all likelihood face a few years in prison, and might in fact present an even stronger possibility of probation.
Everything 32-year-old Anthony Rivers did on the night of May 21, supports the case for second degree murder. Proof of intent is not required. Second degree murder is defined as follows:
"Under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another person and thereby causes the death of another person."Let's look at the facts.
On the night of May 21 Officer Guidice and his partner Officer Carl Dagnello received a domestic violence call. They recognized the address of Rivers' apartment in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. They'd been there the night before, but had been turned away when the victim denied that an attack had occurred. Although they were on their way to another incident, the officers volunteered to take the call.
When they arrived at the apartment they saw the 6 foot, 3 inch, 260 pound Rivers, irate and yelling, attempting to attack his girlfriend with a glass.
There was ample evidence of a violent rampage: A plant had been thrown out a window; a large ceiling fan was lying on the floor; and smashed furniture was strewn about the apartment. Rivers, who has a long and violent criminal record, appeared to be inebriated.
In fact, Rivers himself in an apparent effort to allay possible police action against him, made the 911 call, claiming that the woman was hitting him and saying that he was not injured.
The officers moved quickly to protect the woman and arrest Rivers. He resisted, and threw a 30 to 40 pound mirror across the room at his girlfriend and at least one of the officers standing next to her. Rivers shouted, "I want to kill you."
Although it is not necessary to prove "intent to kill" for second degree murder, only "depraved indifference," it is indeed perplexing that the DA in his press release says there is "absolutely no evidence that the defendant intended to seriously injure, let alone kill, police officer Vincent Guidice." River's statement is as clear and unambiguous a statement of intent as you could ask for in any criminal case. It supports not only "depraved indifference," but also demonstrates "intent to kill," required for manslaughter in the first degree, which the DA also ignored.
The mirror broke on impact. Officers Guidice and Dagnello attempted to arrest Rivers, who violently resisted, driving Officer Dagnello to the ground. Rivers then hurled Officer Guidice into the mirror, driving a jagged shard into his leg. Officer Guidice lost nine units of blood, and despite the very best efforts of Officer Dagnello and the EMS workers, and a four-hour operation at Jacobi Medical Center, he died hours later when his heart gave out.
Finally, it took at least four police officers to subdue and arrest Rivers. During that struggle Rivers broke two fingers of another officer.
It appears that the Bronx DA's office did not present the crime scene evidence to the grand jury. The Grand Jury never saw a picture of the damaged apartment, which would have strongly supported an accusation of depraved indifference to human life. Nor -- to the best of our knowledge -- did it hear from two officers who witnessed Rivers' brutal attack on Officer Guidice.
There is considerable additional evidence to be presented to the Grand Jury. I would urge the Bronx District Attorney's office to reconsider its analysis of this case, present it again to the Grand Jury, and seek an indictment of murder in the second degree.