Justice sought for death of Brooklyn man

Billy Morales holds a candle in memory of his son, Iman Morales. Family and friends held a vigil this week for Morales, who died after he was Tased by a police officer in 2008. Photo by Jasmine Brown

Iman Morales stood naked on the ledge of a storefront awning. Through tears and amidst screams of terror, his mother, Olga Negron, watched as he was Tased and fell head-first onto the concrete below.

Two years later, Negron returned to the location where her son died for a Sept. 24 candlelight vigil to commemorate his life.

She was joined by family, friends and community members who shared memories of Morales, who was mentally ill, and pleaded for justice to be served against the officer they say caused his death.

On Sept. 24, 2008, police officers responded to a disturbance on Tompkins Avenue. Morales, 35, stood naked on the fire escape outside his Brooklyn apartment.

Officers on the scene ordered Morales down. He did not comply, and instead moved over to the ledge of a storefront awning, where he began waving a long, fluorescent light bulb.

Lt. Michael Pigott, of the New York Police Department, then ordered Sgt. Nicholas Marchesona to Tase Morales. The order violated an NYPD mandate stating that a Taser should not be used against a subject who “may fall from an elevated surface.”

Morales, immobilized by the shock, fell head-first onto the ground 10 feet below.

“They could have done something to break his fall, and I begged them, and I told them, ‘Please, he has a big mattress, just throw the mattress out.’ ” Negron said.

Morales was taken to Kings County Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Two years later, Marchesona has not been prosecuted, even though he violated an NYPD mandate, Morales’ family said.

“He was my son, and he didn’t deserve to die the way he did,”  Negron said as she wiped a tear from her face. “Right here above us, he was standing. He wasn’t a threat to anybody, except for a light bulb, and they weren’t prepared to take it away from him and put a mat on the floor to break his fall. Why?”

After the incident, Pigott was placed on modified assignment without his badge and gun, and Marchesona was put on administrative duty pending further investigation. Despite requests from Morales’ family, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office never opened a criminal probe.

Days after the incident, Pigott committed suicide.

Marchesona was promoted to detective six weeks later, according to Morales’ family.

A civil suit against the city is moving forward slowly, and the family is working to press criminal charges against Marchesona for violating NYPD protocol, which they say led to Morales’ death.

Negron also wants the NYPD to better educate officers on how to handle the mentally ill.

“I just want them to realize that people are sick,” she said. “There are a lot of people that need mental help, and these officers have to be prepared to work with our children, or to work with anybody so that they can stop Tasing them the way they do.”

Martha Laureno, one of the leaders of the Justice Committee, a Latino-led organization that works to stop police brutality in the city, said this is another stain on the NYPD.

“Iman’s death once again highlights the blatant misconduct exhibited by the police when responding to mental health crisis calls,” she said at the vigil.

The family has never recovered from Morales’ death, Negron said.

“It has been really hard for me, and I miss him so much, and I haven’t been the same, and his brothers haven’t been the same,” Negron said. “No one has been the same.”