Justifiable Homicide

2002, Movie, NR, 85 mins


Jon Osman and Jonathan Stack's documentary about the 1995 Bronx police shooting of three young Puerto Rican men is a disturbing examination of what appears to be the definition of a "bad" police shooting. Detectives Patrick Brosnan (who had worked as a volunteer bodyguard to then-mayoral candidate Rudolph Giuliani) and James Crowe, of NYC's 46th precinct, claimed to have surprised Hilton Vega, 21, his cousin, Anthony Rosario and Freddie Bonilla, both 18, in the middle of a push-in robbery at the apartment of middle-aged Jorge and Hermalinda Rodriguez. All three youths were armed and a shoot out ensued, leaving Vega and Rosario dead, and Bonilla wounded. The NYPD closed its official investigation in seven days, concluding that Brosnan and Crowe acted appropriately. At the very least this looks like unseemly haste, given that Bonilla's account of events flatly contradicted that of the police and the fact that the Rodriguezes vanished shortly after the incident. Initially paralyzed by grief, Anthony's mother, Margarita Rosario, first pulled herself together to alert the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and later founded the activist group Parents Against Police Brutality. The CCRB discovered a bungled crime scene, uncovered the Rodriguezes' long criminal history (including their ongoing green-card marriage scam and his string of arrests for violent robberies), and reported an independent medical examiner's conclusion that Vega and Rosario were shot while lying on the floor. The Rodriguezes were repeatedly relocated by police and their superintendent, who witnessed the shootings, fled to Puerto Rico claiming he was being harassed by cops. Despite mounting evidence that Crowe and Brosnan had responded to a non-lethal situation with murderous force, Mayor Giuliani and police officials supported them without reservation, publicly denigrating the Rosario family and ignoring the CCRB's conclusions. A Bronx grand jury declined to indict Crowe and Brosnan, though at least one juror said they might have voted differently if they'd heard testimony from witnesses like Bonilla. Osman and Stack may be guilty of lending excessive credence to Mrs. Rosario's insistence that her nephew and son were good boys who couldn't have done the things of which they were accused, but they also document what looks like a textbook cover-up of police misconduct, abetted by an administration unsympathetic to the concerns of minority communities. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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