In meetings of the City Council, in a press conference by the cops, in several demonstrations outside City Hall, in speak-outs and a public hearing, the family and supporters have maintained that this was murder. They demand a special investigation, because they don’t trust Orange County District Attorney Frank Phillips.
Chased by four cops, Lembhard fled into his sister’s house, closing the door behind him. When the cops followed him inside he retreated into the kitchen. His sister, Cherry Lembhard, was upstairs and heard the cops kick the door open. According to the Times Herald-Record, she heard her brother say, “Do what you want. Get it done and over with.”
At a press conference March 9, Newburgh Police Chief Michael Ferrara claimed that Lembhard had grabbed a kitchen knife, held it to his throat and threatened suicide. Then he suddenly turned and charged the cops with the knife. They opened fire striking him numerous times.
Ferrara added that “once he grabbed the knife, he changed the rules,” according to the Newburgh Circle.
Michael Sussman, the family’s lawyer, said at a public hearing “that his body took 9 bullets, 20 shots were fired. There were bullet holes high, low, walls, floor, sofa.”
Myleeka Pittman, 21, lives next to the house where Michael Lembhard was killed. She has joined in protests with the Lembhard family. “My cousin Nate Cobbs was killed by the Newburgh police in 2007,” Pittman told the Militant. “We’re fighting for some justice here.” An autopsy report states Cobbs died from injuries after he was beaten, Tasered and attacked by police dogs.
Some 50 people turned out for a public hearing called by Sussman April 7. The majority were from the Lembhard family. But members of other families joined in to speak about killings by cops in this city of some 28,000 people 67 miles north of New York. The town is just over 30 percent African-American and about 42 percent Hispanic.
Gail McDoe’s son, Dionte Jones, 16, died after crashing into a facility full of flammable liquids and gases while being chased by the police in 2005. She said the cops left him to die in the burning car.
Omari Shakur also spoke. His son Antonio Bryant was killed by Newburgh cops at the age of 23 in 2006. “When my son was killed, no one stood up. When Nate Cobbs was killed, no one stood up. Thank the Lembhard family for putting up a fight. It has brought attention to all those killings. No special prosecutor is going to do anything, until we do something. We are going to have to be in the streets.”
Shakur had just attended a protest around the Trayvon Martin case in nearby Poughkeepsie.
Many spoke about cop harassment. Gosford Lembhard Jr., Michael’s older brother, related an experience from last year. “I was in a car with my wife and two friends,” he said. “The Newburgh police stopped us, ordered us out and put us in handcuffs with their guns drawn. After a while they let us go, saying it was a mistake. I think about that every time I see a cop. We filed a complaint with the police, but it never went anywhere.”
“They pull you over, file some charges, put you in jail for a couple of hours or a couple of days, then let you out and drop the charges,” said Michael Lembhard’s cousin, Harry Banks. “Before long—the same story. Happens all the time. All the time.”
“What next?” said Harry Coolidge, the brother of Arlene Lembhard, Michael’s mother. “We’re not backing off. They murdered him and they will answer for it.”
Harry’s brother George pointed down the street. “I grew up down there. So did my grandfather, and his father before him. This is Newburgh’s east side, called the ghetto. We’ve been here for 100 years. We’re not going away. We’re a big family, and we’re a tough family.”
Members of the tight Lembhard/Coolidge family are both Black and Caucasian. Michael’s mother Arlene is Caucasian, his father Gosford is Black. Several other couples in the more than 100-strong family are also mixed.
After the hearing, Edith King, Arlene’s sister, passed out fliers urging people to come to a meeting April 9 to press the demand that “a special prosecutor investigate the death of Michael Lembhard.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has denied this demand. Orange County District Attorney Phillips has said he’ll bring the case to a grand jury.
Paul Mailhot contributed to this article.
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