On Monday, State Assembly member Pamela Hunter and State Senator Jackson held a press conference on legislation they’re cosponsoring to end Qualified Immunity (see EP’s coverage from the Hudson Mohawk Magazine
). Gertha Depas, mother of Edson Thevenin, delivered a moving speech about the agonizing experience of losing her son, and the subsequent injustice of his killer being protected by Qualified Immunity. Below are her prepared remarks, shared with permission.
GERTHA DEPAS: On an early morning of April 17, 2016 I experienced the greatest pain that any mother could experience. I was awakened by a knock on the door. Officers informed myself and my daughter-in-law that my son had been in an accident. After attempting to see him in the hospital I was told that he had died. I was then sent to another hospital to identify his body. On reaching Albany Medical Center I was told that my son has been killed and I was not allowed to see his body.
And so begin the hardest week of my life as I attempted to put pieces together to solve the puzzle as to how my son took his last breath. And while I thought that no pain could be greater than this loss, I soon found out the hardship, the pain, the crushing of Qualified Immunity.
My name is Gertha Depas and my son is Edson Thevenin. Edson’s life ended by the hand of a Troy New York police officer. Facing the reality that I had to bury my firstborn, the father of my grandchildren, the husband of my daughter-in-law, the brother of my sons, my friend, even harder than saying goodbye to Edson, was receiving the news, that the officer who had taken his life had received immunity.
And before Edson’s body could be received into the Earth, officer Randall French had received immunity.
A grand jury was convened regarding the force that was used to take Edson’s life. Even before the officer testified he was granted immunity. Then the District Attorney Joel Abelove said that even if the grand jury had found the officer guilty he would have provided him with immunity, therefore he would not have to face any charges for the killing of my son. (Within 4 days of my son’s murder there was a grand jury and a private press conference that consisted of Mayor Madden, Chief Tedesco, and then DA Joel Abelove.)
I stand here today, five years later with no answers. I stand here today to represent the mothers who have lost their son and daughters, the spouses who have lost their loved ones, the children who have lost their parents and New Yorkers whose lives have been ripped apart because of Qualified Immunity. When members of our Black and brown communities are killed at the hands of law enforcement, too often they are given immunity, and not held accountable for their acts. Injustice to one is injustice to us all.
And today I stand with Senator Jackson and Assembly Member Hunter to say that Qualified Immunity does not help our community. Instead it is used as a cloak of protection for law enforcement. Too long we have suffered because of Qualified Immunity. Too long law enforcement has been given a pass for the deeds they’ve done and no one is able to hold them accountable.
Passing this important piece of legislation, does not say that we are against law enforcement. What it does say to the public is that finally we will get answers that we have been asking.
Again, I thank the Senator and Assembly Member for this wonderful piece of legislation, together we can continue to make changes that will make New York a better, safer and wonderful place to live and raise our families.
I’m asking Senator Neil Breslin to consider cosponsoring this important piece of legislation.