In a move that may concern North Brooklyn residents, Chief John Chell, a police officer who shot and killed a young Black man in 2008, was recently transferred to our neighborhood as the Commanding Officer of the Detective Bureau Brooklyn North. He previously served as deputy chief of the Detective Bureau Brooklyn South and commanding officer of the 75th Precinct in East New York.
The Detective Bureau arm of the NYPD “is responsible for the prevention, detection, and investigation of crime, and its work often complements the work of police officers assigned to the precincts,” according to the NYPD website. Essentially, Chell is the ultimate authority when it comes to investigating murders in our community, yet he himself is responsible for the death of Ortanzso Bovell.
In 2008, 25-year old Ortanzso Bovell was breaking into a car in East Flatbush when then-Lieutenant Chell and his Brooklyn South Auto Larceny squad arrived at the scene. According to a New York Daily News article from 2017, “Bovell tried to speed off in the car and sideswiped Chell as he tried to escape, according to initial reports. Chell, who had taken out his weapon, fell and his gun went off as Bovell drove away, striking him in the back — a chain of events corroborated by several witnesses.”
This shooting was the third time that Chell had fired his weapon while on duty. To put that in context: Most police officers will never actually discharge their weapon in the course of their career, despite what one might think based on TV and movies. A 2017 study from Pew Research Center estimates that only 27% of officers have ever fired their weapon.
Chell maintained that his weapon accidentally discharged. The Brooklyn DA never charged Chell with any criminal misconduct, but he later faced a civil lawsuit in 2017. The jury in a civil wrongful death trial found that Chell intentionally fired his weapon, based on a ballistics report that said the firearm could have only been fired by someone in a standing position. The jury awarded Bovell’s mother $2.5 million in damages. Chell also never faced a formal reprimand or investigation from the NYPD for his actions, instead earning promotions and rising through the ranks.
The death of Ortanzso Bovell was not the first time that Chief John Chell has been accused of using excessive force. The City reports that “Chell’s new assignment follows five Civilian Complaint Review Board cases dating back as far as 1997 and as recently as 2017, three of which alleged physical force.” In a 2017 incident that all too eerily echoes how George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin last year, “Chell was accused of sitting on a man so hard at the 75th Precinct station house that the complainant said that he felt his ‘arm was gonna snap,’” the article continues.
Elizabeth Adams, Legislative Director for City Councilmember Stephen Levin and candidate for City Council herself, says in a statement to Greenpointers: “I am incredibly concerned about the appointment of Chief John Chell to the Brooklyn North Detective Bureau, which oversees part of the 33rd Council District and will have a role in neighborhood community relations. We should rightly be outraged and demanding to know more about how someone who shot and killed a young man of color is now granted such a position of leadership. There have been too many heartbreaking incidents of police violence to ignore the callousness of this decision.”
Header photo courtesy of the NYPD 84th Precinct via Facebook