The man shot and killed by Rochester Police Department officers before dawn on May 14 on Glasser Street “brandished a handgun,” according to Interim Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.
Herriott-Sullivan spoke at a news conference about 12 hours after the incident.
She said she did not know the exact number of shots fired and she did not say whether the victim, identified minutes after the news conference ended by police as a white male in his 20s, fired at officers.
In the morning of May 15, RPD identified the man’s ethnicity as white/Hispanic. At about 10 p.m. police released the identity of the victim: Mark Gaskill, 28, of Rochester.
At the news conference on May 14, Herriott-Sullivan had few details, saying the investigation at the time of the news conference was preliminary and she would have updates. She said body-worn camera footage could be released as soon as a few hours after the news conference.
She said two officers fired their weapons but that more officers were at the scene and all the footage had to be reviewed.
A 42-minute video was released at about 1:30 a.m. May 15. It can be seen at youtu.be/VbV9MprVBlc.
Herriott-Sullivan said the incident began at 4:21 a.m. with ShotSpotter activation in the 500 block of Lyell Avenue. At 4:24, officers saw a possible suspect vehicle, which she said was identified by blue-light cameras in the area.
Two officers initially respond and the first 25 minutes shows the encounter from both vantage points. The video depicts one officer encountering the woman who was out of the vehicle and standing by curb. She said she is not feeling well and said she was headed to Strong. The officer asks if she needs an ambulance, and he asks if she wants to sit in his car, but she declines.
The video shows different views of officers explaining to the two people in the car, a male in the front passenger seat and a male in the rear passenger seat, that they were stopped because their car matched a description of a vehicle leaving the scene where shots were detected. He said his partner is checking the information they provided.
The officer had asked to open the front passenger door, and after the conversation, the passenger asks to close it because he said he is cold. The officer agrees, but stays at the car. The video shows the backseat passenger scrolling his phone.
At one point, the other officer returns to the vehicle and says something to the other officer that prompts him to ask the backseat passenger to open the door so they can talk.
He doesn’t, and the officer opens the front passenger door. It appears he starts to turn to talk to the backseat passenger and then shouts,”Gun, gun.” Video shows him retreating, and shots are heard.
During the news conference, Herriott-Sullivan at one point said nine shots were fired, then said she did not have the exact number. On the video, it appears the shots were not all at once. Officers are heard yelling to the suspect to drop the gun.
After the shots ended, the front seat passenger is told to get out of the car, keep his hands up, and walk slowly backward away from the vehicle to the patrol car. Officers assure him he will not be harmed. He can be seen walking backward down the sidewalk away from the car.
One of the officers is heard on his radio saying the suspect had had the gun in the right side of his waistband. Reflections from an officer’s flashlight and the angle at which he approached the vehicle made it hard to see the gun from the vantage point of the body camera.
The officers radioed to others coming on scene that they did not know where the gun was or the status of the person in the backseat.
Officers had called for an ambulance. After a few minutes, officers called out to the person in the backseat and then tactically approached the vehicle. They can be heard saying the gun was in his right hand and that it now is secured.
The backseat passenger died at the scene, Herriott-Sullivan said.
The incident took place over about 20 minutes.
At the news conference, Herriott-Sullivan said she had seen some body camera footage. Asked if she believed the officers acted appropriately, she said, “I have not seen anything yet that causes me concern, but again, this is the cautious part. We need to see all the video, get all the information, finish our interviews, finish the preliminary, and then I’d be in a better position to share with you.”
As of April 1, the New York state attorney general is the lead investigator for any incident in which a police officer may have caused the death of a person, whether that individual was armed or unarmed. Herriott-Sullivan said she had permission from Attorney General Letitia James to provide some information about the incident.
Herriott-Sullivan said the attorney general did not have to approve everything shared with the public. “While they know we’re conducting a press conference and have given me the green light to share preliminary information, they didn’t want to vet every word. They understand that the public needs to know a certain bit of information that we’ll share.”
Asked if she’d be clearing her future comments with the attorney general, Herriott-Sullivan said, “I would definitely want to, if we’re going to work on this in a spirit of cooperation and investigation, we would really want to communicate and be clear about what’s being shared. This is a new process. … We have to make an effort to communicate and show some consideration.”
Herriott-Sullivan said the information she was providing at the news conference was preliminary.