Chesco Man Is Shot And Killed By Police Officers County Detectives Are Investigating. A Meeting Was Held To Answer Angry Residents' Questions.

Posted: March 14, 1997

COATESVILLE — Police shot and killed a Coatesville man early yesterday, prompting angry questions about race and law enforcement from hundreds of residents during an impromptu community meeting later in the day.

The police said they shot Robert Chadwick Ray, 27, only after he discharged a .357 magnum revolver. The officers, whose names have not been released, then handcuffed Ray before he was taken to Brandywine Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival from gunshot wounds to the neck and chest.

Residents, some of whom said they had witnessed the incident, disputed the police account. They said Ray had surrendered and had his hands raised before he was shot.

Beyond dispute is that Ray was well known to the Coatesville Police Department. He had a long arrest record, and had been involved in physical confrontations with the city's officers in the past.

``An independent investigation is being conducted by the Chester County detectives, and not the Coatesville Police Department, in an effort to conduct an impartial investigation,'' Chester County District Attorney Anthony Sarcione said at the meeting called to discuss the shooting, which occurred in a predominantly black neighborhood.

Two white Coatesville officers were placed on administrative duty pending findings of that investigation. Sarcione said Ray's gun was fired once. One Coatesville officer fired three shots, hitting Ray twice, he said.

``The officers were aware of who Ray was,'' Sarcione said.

Authorities said they were uncertain what started the scuffle that led to the fatal shooting. Sarcione said police were responding to a report of gunshots near the Coatesville Elks Lodge in the 600 block of Merchant Street around 1 a.m. Police were behind the club when Ray left the bar in the lodge and walked down a dirt alley to his car.

Ray, who had been free on parole on a drug conviction since March 1, encountered two Coatesville police officers and one South Coatesville officer, Sarcione said.

In an attempt to apprehend him, officers wrestled with the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Ray on the empty lot behind the lodge before shots were fired, Sarcione said. Sarcione said he did not know why the officers approached Ray.

Yesterday afternoon, hundreds of residents gathered with local clergy, city officials and Sarcione at the First Apostle F B H Holiness Church, located one block from the scene of the fatal shooting, to discuss details of the incident.

The meeting quickly turned into a racially charged indictment of the police department.

``We get treated differently,'' said Roger Johnson, a former City Council president, who is black. ``The police are racist.''

Sarcione and police officers sat at the front of the church for two hours listening to emotional pleas from neighbors, many of whom complained that police used excessive force on Ray.

``I was there; the man didn't do nothing wrong,'' said Roger Lloyd.

Several people who said they saw part of the incident yesterday said that Ray had surrendered to police with raised hands before they shot him. Authorities declined to comment on those allegations.

``He was saying, `I give, I give,' and then I heard the shots,'' said Samar Robeson.

On two occasions before yesterday's fatal shooting, Ray had struggled with officers. He had been arrested and charged with two counts of simple assault and one count of aggravated assault against a police officer.

After being pulled over during a traffic stop in 1991, Ray got out of his car and punched Coatesville Police Officer Tony Sparano, knocking him down. Ray pleaded guilty to simple assault and was sentenced to up to 23 months in county prison.

In 1995, Sparano and Officer Peter Lapp arrested him on a bench warrant issued for parole violations. During the arrest, Ray broke free and appeared ``as if he was going to hit or fight an officer arresting him,'' according to court documents.

Once apprehended, Ray told police, ``As soon as I get up, I'm going to kick one of you cops,'' and then, ``As soon as I get out, I'm going to get one of you cops,'' according to court documents.

Also in 1995, Coatesville police charged him with receiving stolen property and weapons violations, and Ray has been arrested numerous times for parole violations.

In 1990, Coatesville police charged him with attempted murder. He spent nine months in Chester County Prison before a jury found him not guilty of the attempted killing and assault but found him guilty of a weapons offense.

In September, Coatesville police arrested and charged Ray with intent to sell crack cocaine. He served about six months in county prison on that conviction before his release earlier this month.

In 1993, his parole officer stated that Ray had a schizophrenic disorder and abused cocaine and marijuana, according to court documents. He was committed to Norristown State Hospital in January 1993 and released in February. But weeks after being released, he again made violent threats, and was re-committed at Norristown until April, according to court records.

``It's obvious that Mr. Ray has a mental health problem and in addition, he's using controlled substances - I believe cocaine,'' said Assistant District Attorney William Noll, according to transcripts of 1993 parole violation hearings. ``Either one of those things are going [to] cause problems. Both of those things in combination could result in Mr. Ray being a danger to either himself or other members of society.''

His parole officer had said Ray had a history of violent behavior while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Neighbors remained unhappy about the way police handled the incident and what they called the lack of information.

``I don't think this is going to go away,'' said Earl Warner, a neighbor. ``I fear for our other young men's lives and for the lives of police officers.''

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