Eileen Grench, THE CITY
As a mother who lost her son to police violence, Lorna Wright-Bovell understands the pain George Floyd’s family felt and the small measure of justice they received last week with the conviction of the Minneapolis cop who killed him.
When her son Ortanzso Bovell was killed in 2008, the Brooklyn cop who shot him in the back in what the officer described as an accident was not even reprimanded.
But Wright-Bovell thought a 2017 civil court ruling that found then-Lt. John Chell intentionally shot her son and awarded her $2.5 million would lead to some repercussions for the cop.
It was only through reporting by THE CITY that Wright-Bovell — who received $1.5 million in a settlement with City Hall to avoid an appeal — learned that Chell avoided any discipline. She also discovered he had been continuously promoted, becoming a chief who recently landed a key role.
The 64-year-old mother of seven said she was pained — and noted that she never got so much as an apology for her son’s death.
“Floyd lost his life, Daunte Wright lost his life, and millions of others. I have sons who are in the law enforcement also, I don’t take sides,” Wright-Bovell told THE CITY. “I’m saying if you do something wrong, you should pay for what you do.”
‘Doesn’t Know the Facts’
In 2008, Chell was the head of the Brooklyn South Auto Larceny Squad when he shot and killed Bovell, 25, whom police said was stealing a car. Chell said he was knocked backwards by the car as Bovell drove away, fell and fired accidentally.
At the 2017 civil trial, a Brooklyn jury found Chell’s version of events implausible after multiple experts and witnesses painted a picture of the cop intentionally shooting from a standing position.
On April 16, a day after THE CITY’s story detailing Chell’s rise through the NYPD, Mayor Bill deBlasio told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that he didn’t “know every fact.” But he said the case was incomparable to the killing of Daunte Wright by a Minnesota cop who said she mistook her gun for a taser.
“There’s been extensive due process in the case of Chief Chell over, you know, both the civilian process and the internal police department process,“ de Blasio told Lehrer.
Wright-Bovell responded, “He is right: He doesn’t know the facts.”
“Not one juror, not even one was in disagreement, that [Chell] discharged it [his gun] intentionally,” she added. “So therefore, he probably didn’t even read the outcome [in] the newspaper.”
A Steady Climb
Since the August night that Bovell was killed nearly 13 years ago, Chell has ascended the NYPD’s ranks, mostly during the de Blasio administration.
He’s been commanding officer of Brooklyn’s 61st, 79th and 75th precincts and leader of the Brooklyn South Detective Bureau. This month he landed his newest position as chief of Brooklyn North’s detectives.
As Chell climbed the NYPD ladder, Wright-Bovell stayed in her Crown Heights apartment. She slept surrounded by photos of Ortanzso — his first job, his high school graduation, his last meal with the family, his kindergarten school photos.
“He was like my love child, my first American-born,” said Wright Bovell, who came to New York from Jamaica.
She said he earned his nickname, Nature, because “he was always walking and singing.”
He loved belting Bob Marley classics like “Three Little Birds” and “Johnny Was” — the song played at his funeral.
Wright-Bovell said the loss of her son has created a void for her and his siblings. Last month, her newest grandson was born — named after Ortanzso.
“He was a good man,” she said of her son. “I’m not saying he never got into any trouble. I’m not saying he’s perfect. I am not saying that he is unique. I’m just saying he was a good person.”
Answers and Apology Sought
After THE CITY’s story, Wright-Bovell wrote an email to the mayor’s office asking about her son’s case.
“I’m not saying that [Chell] shouldn’t get the job, because I don’t know what the job entails,” she said. “I’m just saying if he did not face any consequences because of Ortanzso, he should. He should come out and give some apology for killing my son.”
As of Thursday, the mayor’s office had not seen the email from Wright-Bovell, said Avery Cohen, a spokesperson for de Blasio. “Our correspondence unit receives upwards of 4,000 emails to the mayor each week, but we can check to see if this was received,” she said.
She did not respond to whether the mayor believes the case should be reopened, or comment on the civil jury’s finding of intentionality.
Sergeant Jessica McRorie, an NYPD spokesperson, said Chell received no discipline because neither the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office or the Police Department’s own internal investigation found “any criminality on the part of the lieutenant.”
But in a deposition from the civil case obtained by THE CITY, Chell said that he had not been questioned by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, and only underwent a routine departmental interview known as a GO-15, two months after the shooting.
A probe by the police department, Brooklyn prosecutors and the city medical examiner had been concluded a month earlier, internal reports show. A spokesperson for the police department said their interviews are usually not done until after criminal probes are complete.
Neither the NYPD, Brooklyn District Attorney Office would elaborate on the extent or content of their investigations into Chell’s killing of Bovell.
A spokesperson for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a written statement that “the case was fully investigated and closed by a prior administration without finding criminal liability,” adding: “The office is always willing to examine newly discovered evidence but none has been presented to us in this case since then.”
Chris Monahan, president of the Captains Endowment Association, said that he could not speak to what happened before Chell was a member of the union in 2008. But he insisted the NYPD and DA investigations counted more than a civil jury’s conclusions.
“There’s different proof when you’re in a civil case than a criminal case. Preponderance of the evidence,” he noted.
‘Police Need to Be Policed’
People who were there told Wright-Bovell that her son cried out for his mother when he was shot — like Floyd.
“I want to see our sons be treated equally,” she said, pointing out that she has white, Indian and Black grandchildren.
“I am looking for equality, which is very hard to come by … And until we have learned to love each other, then. But the police force really need to be policed.”
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