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Kadafi Ala

Other Kings County, New York CIU exonerations
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In June 30, 2021, 42-year-old Kadafi Ala was exonerated in Kings County, New York of the attempted aggravated assault of three New York police officers shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve in 2000. Ala, who had been released on parole in 2018, said his exoneration by the King’s County District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit showed that “Justice was provided and served today…but it hurts that I had to go through so much.”

His ordeal began at about 12:15 a.m. on January 1, 2000, when Ala was 20 years old and known as Phillip Almeda. He was among a group of people watching fireworks when four plain-clothed New York police officers stopped to investigate someone firing a revolver into the air in front of 1320 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. The officers shot at the young man and said that Almeda then began firing a semi-automatic pistol at them from behind a brick wall in front of the residence.

Three of the officers took cover and returned fire. Seconds later, Almeda came out with his hands in the air. He was arrested immediately. Officers went into the building and arrested the 16-year-old youth, identified as MH.

Two of the officers, Sgt. Charles Broughton and officer Patrick Coward identified Almeda on the scene as the man who shot at them. The other two officers, Detective Sidney Strobert and officer William O’Brien, identified Almeda in a photo lineup as the shooter.

Detective John Landino interviewed Sgt. David Cheesewright, who arrived at the scene after the shooting. Landino’s handwritten notes said that as Almeda was being handcuffed, Cheesewright heard him say about four times, “I gonna kill those [obscenity].” However, Landino’s typewritten report quoted Cheesewright as saying that Almeda said, “I hate you cops, I should have killed you [obscenity].”

Detective Samuel Gilford from the police crime scene unit recovered 26 spent shell casings on the sidewalk and by the entrance to a walkway leading to the building. He also found two live bullets on the sidewalk.

Behind the brick wall, on either side of the walkway, were separate courtyards that were each fenced in and separate from each other. A nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol was recovered in the left courtyard inside a cement planter box. A cartridge was in the chamber of the gun with a cartridge jammed behind it, and there was another cartridge in the magazine. The officers said Almeda ran out from the courtyard on the right side of the walkway.

Almeda and MH were each charged with four counts of attempted murder, four counts of attempted aggravated assault of a police officer, and one count of criminal possession of a weapon. Ultimately, the indictment against MH was dismissed and in April 2000, he pled guilty as a youthful offender to possession of an imitation pistol. Prior to trial, Almeda took a polygraph examination and was said to be truthful when he denied possessing or firing a gun.

In January 2001, a pretrial hearing was held in Kings County Supreme Court on a defense motion to bar the prosecution from testifying about Almeda’s statements when arrested. Sgt. Broughton testified that when he and the officers pursued MH, who ran into the house, they were met with gunfire coming from the courtyard on the right. He said he saw Almeda shooting, and he fired back. Broughton said he and his fellow officers were “pinned down.” Broughton said Almeda fired four volleys of rapid-fire shots and there was a delay. At that point, Broughton said he and Detective Strobert jumped into the walkway.

Broughton said Almeda jumped out from some bushes with his hands in the air, yelling, “I hate you police. I wished I had killed you [obscenity]. I hate you.” Broughton said he and Strobert grabbed Almeda and turned him over to uniformed officers who had arrived. Broughton said Almeda kept “talking all the way through, yelling and screaming how he hated the cops; how he wished he had killed [them].”

The defense motion was denied and in February 2001, Almeda went to trial. In opening statements, the prosecutor told the jury it was a “simple case” and quoted Almeda as saying, “I hate you cops, and I should have killed all you [obscenity].” The prosecutor noted that nine or 10 recovered shell casings were linked to the gun recovered at the scene in the planter.

All four officers testified and identified Almeda as the gunman. They described how he fired volleys of rounds. O’Brien identified the gun found in the planter as the gun that Almeda was firing. Broughton, Strobert, and O’Brien testified that they heard Almeda say he should have killed the officers.

Detective Gilford, the crime scene officer, testified that he attempted to lift fingerprints from the gun recovered from the planter, but he did not find any prints of value. He said he recovered 26 shell casings and two live bullets—all from the sidewalk outside the brick wall at the front of the property.

Detective Sean Hart, an expert in firearms analysis and examination, examined the recovered pistol and the three cartridges in it. Hart tested two of the cartridges and determined that the gun and ammunition were operable. Hart told the jury that the magazine of that gun held up to 21 cartridges. Each time the trigger was pulled, a bullet was fired, the cartridge was ejected, and a new cartridge entered the chamber from the magazine.

Detective Joseph Ramirez, an expert in microscopic comparison and firearms operability, testified that the officers’ guns and the recovered gun were all nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistols. Ramirez determined that sixteen of the recovered shell casings had been fired from three of the officers’ guns. Nine other recovered shell casings had been fired from the nine-millimeter gun recovered from the planter, he said.

Ramirez was cross-examined about whether he could determine where the officers and the shooter were positioned based on the location of the recovered shell casings. Ramirez testified that there was no way to determine their positions without knowing the direction of fire and the way the guns were held. He explained that if the gun were held straight out, perpendicular to the body, and in the right hand, the casings would “go over” the right shoulder and land five to ten feet behind the shooter. Thus, he said, the shooter would be positioned anywhere within five or ten feet of where the casing landed—assuming the casing stopped where it landed and did not move. But casings are round and cylindrical and tend to bounce and roll. Also, there were many variables that affected the distance the casings traveled after ejection, such as whether the shooter held the gun at a different angle and to the side, and even the firmness of the shooter’s grip on the gun.

Almeda’s defense attorney called Asim Jones as a defense witness. Jones testified that on the night of the shooting, he was part of a group watching fireworks over Grand Army Plaza at the main entrance to Prospect Park. He said there were at least 15 people present outside, including Almeda and Almeda’s brother, Michael. There were others, including MH, who were inside the building.

Jones said that Lamont Hunter, who lived on the same block, came to watch the fireworks carrying a black bag. Hunter took a gun from the bag and shot into the air. Jones said Hunter reloaded and fired more shots just as the officers jumped out of an unmarked vehicle and yelled for everyone to “Freeze!” Hunter then ran into the house, Jones said.

Jones told the jury the officers began shooting and that no one was shooting back at them. Jones said that several people ran inside, while others dropped to the ground. Several people from the two courtyards as well as from inside the house were taken to the police station, though only MH and Almeda were charged. Jones said he did not recall Almeda ever saying that he hated the police or should have killed them.

Hector Hunt, who was Almeda’s best friend, said that he was present when Hunter “let off a couple of rounds.” Police then arrived and started shooting, Hunt said. He said he ran inside while Almeda and his brother and others remained outside. Hunt said that the only person with a gun was Hunter and that he thought it was a semi-automatic.

Michael Almeda testified that when Hunter and his pregnant girlfriend showed up, Hunter took a gun out of a bag and began firing it into the air. Michael said he grabbed his brother to get out of the way. At that point, the four officers emerged from the vehicle and began shooting. Michael said that when his brother attempted to cross the street, the officers grabbed him.

Charles Donovan, who lived in the building where everyone had gathered, said that Hunter had fired about 10 shots, aiming into the air and toward Grand Army Plaza. At that point, the vehicle containing the officers pulled to a stop on the median. The officers got out and began firing. Donovan said no one fired at the police.

Donovan testified that when he learned that Phillip Almeda had been charged, he went to the police station a day or two later and reported that Hunter was the only one who was shooting.

The defense did not question the firearms examination evidence.

On February 28, 2001, the jury acquitted Almeda of four counts of attempted murder, as well as the charge of attempted aggravated assault of Detective Strobert. He was convicted of attempted aggravated assault of Broughton, Coward, and O’Brien. On April 5, 2001, Almeda told the judge he was innocent before being sentenced to 21 years in prison.

On appeal, Almeda argued that since semi-automatic shell casings are ejected from the side of the weapon, the shooter could not have been in the courtyard where he was because the casings were recovered from the sidewalk. Almeda also argued that the gun was recovered in the left courtyard and that he was in the right courtyard. In August 2004, the Appellate Division, Second Department, of the Kings County Supreme Court rejected these arguments and upheld Almeda’s conviction and sentence, noting that the testimony of the officers provided a “sufficient factual basis” to support the convictions.

“Inconsistencies regarding the location and source of shell casings that fell during the gun battle were placed before the trier of fact and resolved in the prosecution’s favor,” the court held.

In April 2018, Almeda, who by then had changed his name to Kadafi Ala, appeared before the New York State Board of Parole. He maintained his innocence and his parole was denied. At that time, Ala was informed he would not get another parole hearing for a year. However, on December 17, 2018, he was released on parole.

On June 30, 2021, Ala was exonerated—his convictions were vacated and the charges dismissed—following an investigation by the Kings County District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU). A re-investigation of the evidence, including an analysis of the firearms evidence by an outside expert, Dr. Michael Knox, showed that the officers had testified falsely to implicate Ala, according to District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

“The integrity of the defendant’s conviction was undermined by the officers’ implausible trial testimony that the defendant possessed the recovered gun and shot at them from inside the courtyard, and, upon apprehension, made an inculpatory statement evincing his intent to kill the officers,” the CRU said in a 31-page report.

Knox, a crime scene reconstructionist with expertise in firearms and ballistics, concluded that based on the location of the shell casings and cartridges of the recovered gun it was highly improbable that they came from the courtyard where the officers said Ala was. Knox said it was more likely the casings and cartridges came from a gun fired by Hunter—the man who defense witnesses at Ala's trial testified was firing a gun after midnight.

As part of the re-investigation, the CRU interviewed Detective Gilford, the crime scene officer. Gilford recalled that he had not been told that the shooter was in the courtyard. When informed of the officers’ testimony and asked if it was plausible based on where he found the shell casings, Gilford said, “No.”

The CRU report noted that for the nine shell casings linked to the recovered gun to wind up on the sidewalk outside of the fence at the front of the property, they “would have had to bounce through shrubbery, a chain-link fence and over a two-foot high brick wall (or somehow work their way through the small square holes in the brick wall).”

“The likelihood of that event occurring for all nine shell casings is so remote as to be virtually impossible,” the report said.

The report noted that “inexplicably,” Ala’s trial defense attorney failed to question the prosecution’s firearms experts about how the shell casings could have wound up on the sidewalk.

The CRU concluded that not only was the officers’ testimony about seeing Ala with a gun not credible, but that the location where the gun was found—the planter in the left courtyard—contradicted the officers’ testimony that Ala was shooting from the right courtyard.

The CRU said that the officers’ initial accounts of Ala’s statement after being arrested, including the version in Detective Landino’s notes, “suggest that the defendant never made the inculpatory version attributed to him at trial.” The CRU noted that the prior inconsistent versions from the officers were known to Ala’s defense lawyer, but the lawyer “inexplicably failed to confront [the officers] with their prior versions.”

“The CRU believes that the case should not have proceeded without the prosecution fully evaluating the evidence, including the ballistics evidence—particularly, the location of the discharged shelling casing[s] mated to the recovered firearm—Officer O’Brien’s identification of the recovered gun and the officers’ final trial version of the defendant’s statement effectively admitting his intent to kill.”

“The prosecution embraced the evidence without analysis, examination or consideration of any of [these] issues,” the CRU report said. This was the result of “confirmation bias,” the “tendency to unconditionally embrace information that supports existing beliefs or reject information that contradicts those beliefs…For prosecutors, such bias is particularly toxic,” the report said.

Finally, the CRU said it “has no confidence in the integrity of the conviction, and there is no reliable credible evidence of guilt.”

On June 30, following a motion by Mark Hale, head of the CRU, Kings County Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic vacated Ala’s convictions and dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/16/2021
Last Updated: 7/16/2021
State:New York
County:Kings
Most Serious Crime:Other
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2000
Convicted:2001
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:21 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No