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Jury evaluating charges an ex-NYPD officer allegedly shot unarmed man in face, tried to cover it up: Sources

March 14, 2019 - 8:19 pm
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(NEW YORK) -- A New York City man -- whose jaw has been wired shut since an off-duty officer allegedly shot him in the face during an argument over a phone charger seven months ago -— testified on Thursday to a grand jury which is evaluating possible charges, sources confirmed to ABC News.

The panel began hearing testimony this week in Brooklyn Supreme Court regarding the Aug. 2, 2018 incident where New York Police Department (NYPD) Sgt. Ritchard Blake allegedly fired two shots at Thavone Santana in East New York, Brooklyn.

"The family is glad this case is finally moving forward, it has been a tumultuous time for them," said Rev. Kevin McCall, a spiritual adviser for Santana and his family. "Everyday Thavone and his family has been living in fear as this officer is free, walking the streets —- not knowing what he looks like —- it's a threat to them and a threat to society. They are terrified to go out the house at times."

Oren Yaniv, a spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, declined to comment on the matter. The grand jury's conclusion on whether to indict Blake could be made next week, sources told ABC News.

Attempts by ABC News to reach Blake over the phone on Thursday were unsuccessful, and an NYPD spokesperson declined to comment on the grand jury proceedings described by sources to ABC News.

In a statement released to ABC News, Blake's lawyer said that the former police sergeant acted in self-defense, and has not yet decided whether or not he will testify before the sitting grand jury.

“It’s tragic that Mr. Santana was shot and injured, but unfortunately it was this known gang member’s own menacing actions of chasing Mr. Blake in the middle of the night and motioning as if he had a gun in his pocket that caused Mr. Santana to be shot in self-defense,” said Abe George, the attorney for Blake. “Mr. Blake has not yet decided it he will testify in the grand jury.”

McCall refuted the claim that Santana has any gang affiliations.

“He is absolutely not in any gang," McCall said. "They’re trying to discredit someone when they police thinks they are the victim. This is a clear cut case of a copy gone rouge, that’s it."

Grand juries proceedings are, by law, secret. They are led by prosecutors, with no judge present, and the defendant does not have a right to present his or her case, or in some cases to be informed of the existence of the panel. The purpose of a grand jury is to help a prosecutor determine whether to file criminal charges or an indictment against a suspect.

The pre-dawn shooting allegedly occurred after Santana, 21, knocked on Blake's girlfriend apartment door seeking the return of his phone charger, which he claimed in the lawsuit he had lent to the woman earlier in the evening.

"Sgt. Blake opened the door and appeared inebriated," according to a federal civil lawsuit filed in January against the city, Blake and other unnamed NYPD officers. "He began cursing and screaming at Thavone for knocking on" the door at 4 a.m."

Santana left the building to purchase another charger from a nearby convenient store as Sgt. Blake followed "within steps" behind him and shouting for Santana to "stay away from his girl," according to the January lawsuit.

Despite Santana assuring the 41-year-old officer that he "wanted nothing to do" with the cop's girlfriend and "was just trying to get his charger back," Blake opened fire, according to the lawsuit.

After the shooting, Blake told his fellow officers that Santana tried to rob him and that he was acting in self defense.

As the ambulance transported Santana to a nearby hospital, police placed him under arrest and handcuffed him to the stretcher, a source familiar with the case told ABC News on Thursday.

The following day, surveillance video near the scene allegedly tells a different story.

As the pair were just feet apart from one another, Blake pulled out a gun and shot Santana, before attempting to "cover up his actions" by taking "knives out of his back pocket and plant[ing] them" on the bleeding Santana's body, according to the lawsuit and the video footage.

Blake allegedly leaned over to pick back up the object he threw onto Santana and said "I should've killed you," a source told ABC News on Thursday.

According to the lawsuit, Blake has a history of violence.

"Sgt. Blake has a prominent and long history of violence, assaults and was the subject of Internal Affairs investigations of his actions in 2010, 2011 and 2016 and was disciplined for his violations of NYPD Policies."

Once the surveillance video surfaced, an internal investigation ensued and Blake was fired from the force.

"If the NYPD can fire him, then the district attorney can charge him," said Rev. McCall. "The family wants this officer behind bars, no community service, no fine to pay, but jail time."

Santana was hospitalized for several weeks after the shooting. One of the bullets that struck him in the face remains lodged in his spine.

"Prior to the assault, Thavone assisted his mother in caring for his seven younger sibling, the youngest of which is six-years-old," according to the lawsuit.

Santana is unable to work, receives therapy, has a home health aide to assist him everyday and has several surgeries scheduled as the pressure from the bullet is pressing against a nerve that causes numbness to his left leg, a source familiar with his condition told ABC News.

"His jaw is wired shut, he still has a trach and feeding tube," the source said, referring to a tracheostomy -- a breathing tube placed through a hole in the neck straight into the windpipe.

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