Husband-Wife Legal Team of Haub Law Professors Recount Dramatic Details of their Case Inspiring the Newly Released Film, The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.

September 17, 2021
Professors McLaughlin and Cohen
Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. (top right) with his legal team including Haub Law Professors Randolph McLaughlin and Debra Cohen (front) leaving the courthouse after arguing in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Premiering nationwide this Friday, The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, is a socially conscious drama thriller based on the true story of a case that Elisabeth Haub School of Law Professors Randolph McLaughlin and Debra Cohen have worked on for ten years. The law school is located in White Plains, the very city where the dramatic events took place.

In 2011, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., an elderly African American veteran with bipolar disorder, was killed during a conflict with police officers dispatched to check on him after his medical alert device was mistakenly activated. The film recounts the excessive and brutal force executed by the police in their response to this non-threatening situation and provides a lens for society to reflect on the reform needed in policing tactics and our social justice system.

“This film is a tremendous opportunity to help not only bring the case into national focus, but to highlight the important issues – how police respond to aided calls versus criminal calls, how they police in African-American communities, and how they are trained to diffuse situations involving people in mental health crisis,” said Professor McLaughlin. “What was done was a text book ‘not to do’ if their intention was to de-escalate the situation and provide assistance.”

According to McLaughlin, when the police arrived, Mr. Chamberlain was asleep in his bed and made more than 60 attempts over the course of an hour and twenty minutes to explain that he did not call for help, did not need help and did not want to open his door. “When we heard the audio recording, we were shocked at the inhumanity demonstrated by law enforcement,” said Adjunct Professor Cohen. “Mr. Chamberlain had no agency over his own fate.”

The husband and wife legal team of McLaughlin and Cohen co-chair the Civil Rights Practice Group of Newman Ferrara LLP in Manhattan. They were asked to join the case by colleagues and fellow Haub Law alumni Mayo Bartlett and Wali Muhammad in 2012. A $21 million civil rights lawsuit was filed in federal court against the City of White Plains and several police officers.

The couple were compelled by the outrageous circumstances of the case and the resolve of Kenneth Chamberlain, Jr. to find the truth about his father’s death. “Kenneth has channeled his anger and grief into creating a movement to reform police practices and provide other families with the support they need,” said Cohen. “I thought of my own father at that age who had cognitive challenges, and what that would have been like. I was certain he wouldn’t have been treated the same in this situation.”

The legal fight for justice has spanned over the past ten years, with a case currently still pending in federal district court in White Plains. Less than one year into legal proceedings, a grand jury declined to vote for an indictment, causing an uproar in the community and among social justice advocates. Another letdown came in 2017 when the district court dismissed most of the claims contained in a new lawsuit and excused several of the original defendants, including police officers. Following four-years of pre-trial motions, in 2020, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, restored claims of unlawful entry and non-lethal excessive force. Professors McLaughlin and Cohen are now preparing, with the legal team, for trial and hope that with the need for police reform gaining traction across the country, justice for Mr. Chamberlain Sr. can finally be achieved.

“No matter how hard you work as a lawyer it’s almost impossible to convey a victim’s point of view when a voice can’t be heard and they can’t testify for themselves,” added Cohen. “This film shows us the perspective of the man who is on the other side of the door and gives him a voice that we hope can inspire change.”

The film, which will be available in theaters and on demand on Friday, September 17th, was produced and directed by David Midell, along with acclaimed actor, director and producer Morgan Freeman as an executive producer. Actor Frankie Faison plays Mr. Chamberlain Sr. in the film, which won the jury and audience awards at the 2019 Austin Film Festival where it debuted. More information about the film can be found at:

About Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University

Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law offers J.D. and Masters of Law degrees in both Environmental and International Law, as well as a Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) in Environmental Law. The school, housed on the University’s campus in White Plains, NY, opened its doors in 1976 and has over 9,000 alumni around the world. The school maintains a unique philosophy and approach to legal education that strikes an important balance between practice and theory. Haub Law launched its Environmental Law Program in 1978, and it has long been ranked among the world’s leading university programs, with a current #1 ranking by U.S. World and News Report.

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