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Original Article

Suit Over R.I. Police Shooting Rejected

By RAY HENRY The Associated Press Saturday, December 10, 2005; 3:50 AM

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A police department's training was not to blame for the death of an off-duty black officer, who was fatally shot by two white colleagues, a federal jury ruled.

Sgt. Cornel Young Jr., 29, was in plain clothes in 2000 when he was killed outside a diner as ran to respond to a fight.

Leisa Young, mother of Sgt. Cornel Young Jr., listens as her lawyer, Barry Scheck, right, speaks to the media outside federal court in Providence, R.I. Friday, Dec. 9, 2005. A federal jury decided that the Providence Police Department did not violate the civil rights of her son, a black police officer accidentally shot to death by two white colleagues who mistook him for a suspect. Sgt. Cornel Young Jr., 29, was off duty and in plain clothes on Jan. 28, 2000, when he was killed outside a diner as he ran to respond to a fight. The shooting sparked charges of racism in the city's police department. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) (Elise Amendola - AP) The shooting sparked charges of racism on the police force and led the department to drop a requirement that officers carry their guns while off duty.

Young's mother, Leisa Young, claimed in a $20 million lawsuit that the department had not properly trained one of the officers to recognize off-duty or undercover officers. That officer, Michael Solitro, had been on the force for eight days.

While jurors decided the department's training was not to blame for Young's death, they agreed the training could be improved, juror Thomas Flinn said after the ruling Friday.

Solitro and his partner, Carlos Saraiva, were previously cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by a state grand jury.

Leisa Young left the courtroom without comment after the verdict, then cried quietly on the courthouse steps before getting into a car and leaving with her lawyers.

Her attorney, Barry Scheck, called the ruling disappointing and said he would appeal, adding, "The struggle continues."

City Solicitor Joseph Fernandez called Young's death a "painful loss for the city."

"We're neither unhappy or happy," he said. "The main thing today is to take time to remember the life of Cornel Young Jr., his service to his city, his service to his family and for his community."

Young's father, police Maj. Cornel Young, who did not join his ex-wife's lawsuit but said he supported it, was the highest-ranking black officer in Providence when his son was killed. He testified that the risk of misidentification was particularly great for minority officers.

Young Jr. was eating inside the restaurant when a fight broke out between two women and spilled outside. A friend of one of the women pulled a gun and got into a car, and Young drew his gun and ran outside. Solitro and his partner arrived and opened fire, thinking Young was a suspect.

Though both officers shot Young, the trial focused exclusively on whether the police department improperly trained Solitro, thereby violating Young's civil rights.

At the time of the shooting, Providence police were required to carry their guns off duty and intervene when they saw an immediate threat to life or property. Carrying a gun is now optional for off-duty officers, and they are encouraged instead to try to be good witnesses if they see a crime.