A call to 911 about a man who grabbed knives from the kitchen of the Open Door Mission on West Main Street and later threatened Rochester Police officers ended with an officer shooting the person after he kept advancing and refused repeated orders to drop the knife.
Staff at the shelter called at about 2:55 a.m. March 10. Officers encountered the man in the area of Cascade Drive, according to city officials.
Officers rendered aid after the shooting and the man was taken by ambulance to Strong Memorial Hospital, he was pronounced dead at about 3:55 a.m., city officials said.
“The body worn camera video is heartbreaking,” Mayor Lovely Warren said at a news conference about 12 hours after the incident. “Any time you see these types of videos, it’s heartbreaking. It’s hard to look at.”
Warren said Interim Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan would review the incident and “will come before the community and let them know exactly what transpired here.”
The Police Accountability Board issued a statement asking RPD to release immediately all footage. The PAB did not comment on the incident, other than to say it may raise questions about training, RPD culture and the Person in Crisis Team.
However, the Monroe County District Attorney’s office said RPD can’t release the video until it’s determined whether it or the state Office of the Attorney General has jurisdiction. Additionally, the man had yet to be identified and his family notified, according to the DA’s office.
At about 11:30 p.m. March 10, the city posted the video at https://youtu.be/9Wwy5LBJx-o. The video runs 37 minutes 26 seconds.
The video starts with officers encountering the man. “Boss, I need you to drop the knife right now,” an officer immediately said. “I need you to drop that knife and stop coming toward us.”
Here are some questions from the news conference:
The incident spanned less than 10 minutes and took place in the area of Industrial Street, Cascade Drive and West Main Street.
Officers responded to the Open Door Mission and then encountered the man around the corner to the west. The man was cutting himself and threatening officers, according to police.
Video showed that two officers initially responded, and both told the man to drop the knife. The man said he was dangerous, said he wanted to kill the officers and was telling police to shoot him.
Officers asked the man his name and tried to engage him. The man advanced as police backed up and continued to tell him to drop the knife. A map and diagram of the encounter posted by RPD at the news conference showed approximate distances that officers backed up on three streets where the encounter happened.
On West Main Street, at the curb in front of the Open Door Mission, the man quickened his pace and appeared to close the gap as an officer was backing toward a wall. The officer again tells the man he needs him to drop the knife. “We ain’t gotta go down this road,” he says.
The camera footage becomes jumpy as the officer appears to be running backward.
As the man gets to the curb and fire hydrant in front of the Open Door Mission, the officer says, “Don’t, don’t, don’t. Back up right now.”
The officer then fires five shots from his service weapon, striking the man in the upper body, and he falls a few steps beyond the fire hydrant.
“God dammit,” the officer says. “Detail, shots fired. Step up AMR” in reference to an ambulance.
The officer then leads the rescue effort, calling for other officers to apply pressure to the wounds. Another officer kicks away the knife. The scene is redacted visually and only audio is available.
The officer who fired his weapon is on administrative duty while RPD conducts an investigation.
Warren said that Herriott-Sullivan and the command staff would be “forthright with this community when they believe that our officers acted in accordance with his or her training.”
As for her assessment, Warren said she watched a video and was not on that street.
“But at the end of the day, you have an officer out there that has been talking that is trying to avoid this interaction and … backed up, retreated and did certain things in order to avoid this. And I’m sure that he’s asking himself questions as well, but let’s allow them to do their review, allow the AG’s office to do their review.”
Asked if she thought they did act in accordance, the chief said she would not make a conclusive statement.
Why didn’t a crisis team respond?
Under the pilot phase, the city’s Person in Crisis team does not respond to calls involving crime or violence. Herriott-Sullivan said that in this case, the county’s Forensic Intervention Team would not have had time to get to the scene.
“And these sorts of circumstances, obviously we want to keep them safe,” she said. “So it would have been one of our priorities to make sure they were safe as well. So I don’t know how much or to what extent they could have been helpful under these kinds of circumstances. But again, there just was not time for them to be advised and to get to the site.”
She said that in this instance, with what she described as a fluid scene that was “too dangerous,” mental health responders would have been kept back.
She said she has a meeting scheduled the week of March 15 with Dr. Daniele Lyman-Torres, commissioner of the city’s Department of Recreation and Human Services that oversees the PIC team. She said they plan to review progress and what changes can be made, such as a co-response with RPD or having officers staged nearby.
The mayor said she heard officers asking the man’s name and trying to divert his attention. “I don’t know if a social worker asking that question would have ended, you know, would have changed how he responded.”
She said that she, the chief and Lyman-Torres spoke with mental health experts at the University of Rochester to come up with a community response plan to help the number of people dealing with mental health challenges.
Could a taser have been used?
Only specially qualified RPD officers carry tasers, and beanbag guns are not deployed to every officer. Herriott-Sullivan said she heard the request for a beanbag gun, which was made about three minutes into the encounter. She said the incident happened too quickly for either method to arrive.