Gothamist: Family Of Japanese Student Killed By NYPD Car: “We Want To Know The Truth”

Published in Gothamist, February 22, 2014.

Christopher H. Fitzgerald lawyer New York

The family of Ryo Oyamada, the 24-year-old Japanese student who was fatally struck by a police cruiser last year, is still waiting for the NYPD to disclose information regarding their investigation into his death. And they say they will not rest until they have their answers.

At a press conference yesterday, Ryo’s sisters, Tomoko and Kaoru, gathered at family attorney Christopher Fitzgerald’s office in Lower Manhattan to discuss their treatment at the hands of the NYPD. The family filed an $8 million lawsuit last year that cited gross negligence on the part of the patrol car’s driver and demanded the NYPD disclose a surveillance tape and other evidence they’re withholding from the night of the crash; they have not received anything from the NYPD thus far. “I can’t believe this is happening in New York City, the city of democracy, in 2014,” Tomoko said through the help of an interpreter. “We want to know the truth. We just want to have some kind of honest explanation of what happened to Ryo,” Tomoko told us.

Right after Ryo was killed, NYPD officers told his family he had been crossing the street in Queensbridge mid-block with his headphones on, maintaining that they were responding to a 911 call in the area and that the patrol car had its emergency lights activated at the time. At least two witnesses, however, say they saw neither sirens nor lights engaged at the time of the incident. The NYPD says they have a surveillance tape that shows Ryo and the cop car on that fatal night, and earlier this month it was ordered they disclose that tape, and any other information pertaining to the investigation into Ryo’s death within 30 days; they now have only two weeks to do so. In addition to the tape in question, “We’re entitled to the Accident Investigation Squad (AIS) report,” Fitzgerald said. “The Internal Affairs Bureau has been investigating, and we’re entitled to that too. We’ve demanded recordings of the 911 call.”

For now, the family is playing a waiting game. Though Fitzgerald says the fact that the NYPD’s been “dragging their feet” in releasing the surveillance tape may be telling, he’s not sure the tape will offer anything other than “grainy footage that doesn’t show anything definitive.” But as Fitzgerald told us, “There’s a public issue here. The public deserves answers as well as the family does. Even if they can’t contact the family individually, they should be releasing information to the public regarding this accident.”

Left without answers, Ryo’s family feels nothing but anger and frustration at the city’s treatment of them. “Today marked the one year anniversary. One year ago, we never thought nothing would be disclosed or explained fully to us one year later,” the family said. “The NYPD and public institutions are not treating Ryo as a legitimate citizen. We are wondering how they think this of our brother.”

No public officials have reached out to the family at any point. Oyamada was killed in the district represented by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who recently held a press conference calling for Northern Boulevard in Woodside to be incorporated in Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. Despite multiple requests for comment, Van Bramer has kept silent on Oyamada’s death.

The family has traveled from Japan to New York four times in the last year, and though they noted they have “mixed feelings about New York” because of the “inhumane treatment” they have received at the hand of public institutions, they are grateful for the “local people…who tried to help Ryo” on the night of the fatal incident. At 12:30 a.m. on Friday, they held a vigil at the site of his death, where Tomoko said she thought about “what Ryo was thinking, what Ryo was hearing” in the moments before he lost his life. “We think about it all the time,” she said.