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City of Rochester releases police video of man killed by officers

Max Schulte / WXXI News
Rochester police working on investigation Wed. morning, 3/10/21 at Open Door Mission on West Main St. after police shot a man with a knife early Wednesday morning. The man later died at the hospital.

The City of Rochester has released police body-worn video of the shooting of a man who authorities say threatened officers with a knife early Wednesday morning.

It happened just before 3:00 a.m. near the Open Door Mission, after police say he threatened them with a knife.

Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said that staff from the Mission called 911 to say that a man, who was staying at the facility on West Main Street, grabbed some knives from the kitchen and ran out of the building.

When police got there, the chief said officers gave the man several commands to drop a knife he was holding.

Herriott-Sullivan said the man made threatening statements to the officers, threatening to kill them or that the officers “would have to kill him.” The chief said the officers at the scene retreated, backing up more than 400 feet, but the man ran toward the officers and that’s when an officer fired at least one shot, hitting the man in the upper body.

He was brought to the hospital, where he died an hour later. In the video released by the city on Wednesday night (below), several shots can be heard. After the man is shot, one officer can be heard saying five shots, at least four hits, three to the chest, at least one to the stomach.

Herriott-Sullivan said that officers did call for non-lethal devices, including a bean bag gun and a Taser, but she said that everything happened within several minutes, which wasn’t enough time for the other devices to arrive.

The officer who fired the shot is on administrative leave while an investigation continues. Herriott-Sullivan said the state Attorney General’s Office is investigating to see if the AG will have jurisdiction in investigating this incident.

WARNING: This video contains graphic content. The police body-worn video is followed by a short piece of video from a nearby surveillance camera, also released by the city:

Mayor Lovely Warren, who appeared with the chief at a Wednesday afternoon news conference, said that the bodyworn video of the incident and other videos of police-civilian incidents in recent weeks and months are heartbreaking.

"There will never be a time I’ll be able to stand before this community and be okay with seeing a person being shot and dying on our streets,” Warren said.

But the mayor also said that she realizes she sees things through a different lens, and she expressed confidence in Herriott-Sullivan and her command staff to do a thorough review.

Herriott-Sullivan said given the short amount of time that was involved during this incident, there would not have been enough time for the county's crisis intervention team to get to the scene. 

State Senator Samra Brouk, chair of the Mental Health Committee, questioned whether police should have responded at all. Weeks ago, Brouk introduced a bill called “Daniel’s Law” that would create a state-wide network for mental health crisis response.

“If indeed what occurred was a gentleman in need of housing, in need of help who was attempting to self-harm, to inflict self-harm, that’s usually aligned with a mental health crisis,” Brouk said.

Before the video was released on Wednesday night, Connor Dwyer Reynolds, with the Police Accountability Board, said while City Council members had been able to review body camera footage of the incident, the PAB had not.

“We have the right under the city charter to have information unredacted, quickly," Reynolds said, adding that information has been withheld from the board. "We can’t comment on second-hand statements from officials who’ve seen the footage. We need to see it ourselves to know what happened. The community needs to see the footage to know what happened.”

The executive director of the Open Door Mission, Anna Valeria-Iseman, released this statement on Wednesday:

“Our hearts are heavy at the Open Door Mission regarding the incident that occurred early this morning involving the death of one of our guests. We are praying for our guest, their loved ones, and the Rochester Police Department officers involved in this incident. As this is an ongoing police investigation, we can have no further comment at this time.”

Police Accountability Board Chair Shani Wilson released this statement on the RPD shooting, before the video was released late Wednesday night:

“This morning, the Police Accountability Board learned of media reports that a Rochester Police Department officer shot and killed a man at the Open Door Mission. I asked RPD to provide the PAB with all relevant body-worn camera footage of this incident. I also asked RPD to immediately release that footage to the public. I have not received a response to either of my requests.”

“The PAB cannot comment on what we have not seen. However, this latest incident may raise the same questions our community has been asking for months about officer training, RPD culture, and the Person in Crisis Team. The PAB is searching for answers to these pressing questions through our open investigation into the policies, practices, procedures, and training involved in the Harris Street and Portland Avenue pepperspraying incidents. This latest incident spotlights the need for immediate attention to our repeated, unfulfilled requests for information. The community deserves a full and transparent review of all these incidents.”

The Rochester Police Locust Club (the police union) released this statement:

"A sudden loss of life should only be seen for what it ultimately is, a tragedy. We ask the community to recognize the challenging place that our members found themselves in. Despite their best efforts in a very difficult and dangerous encounter, a life was lost. We ask the public to keep all involved in their thoughts and prayers. We also ask that patience and judgment be reserved while the investigation into this incident goes forward.”

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.
Noelle E. C. Evans is a general assignment reporter/producer for WXXI News with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.
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