Schenectady County

Family friend says shooting victim was ill

The knife-wielding man shot and killed Saturday by a city police officer suffered from a form of dep

The knife-wielding man shot and killed Saturday by a city police officer suffered from a form of depression, a friend of the family said Tuesday.

The victim, James C. Tomlin, 25, of Schenectady, had also served time on a weapons possession charge. Tomlin was shot after he took several quick steps toward Officer Edward Ritz. Ritz fired twice, hitting Tomlin once.

Vincent Estrada on Tuesday said Tomlin suffered from depression and took medication. The only thing he could think of that could have caused the behavior police described was that Tomlin wasn’t taking his medication. Estrada identified himself as the boyfriend of Tomlin’s mother. He spoke outside the mother’s Amsterdam apartment.

Estrada questioned why police had to shoot Tomlin.

“The cops didn’t have to do that,” Estrada said. “They could have Maced him or Tased him instead of shooting him.”

Schenectady police do not have Tasers, electronic stun guns, but officials said this week that they have been investigating whether to purchase the devices.

“Why did it have to be a fatality?” Estrada added later. “It didn’t have to go that far.”

Estrada deferred to Tomlin’s mother for more information on Tomlin’s condition. She declined to comment later.

An internal investigation is under way into the Saturday shooting; a grand jury investigation is expected to follow.

A Police Department in-car video camera captured the shooting. The video and witness testimony are expected to play important roles in the investigations.

However, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett has said that based on the information known, Ritz acted properly in defending himself and others.

Autopsy results released Tuesday provided little new information. Tomlin died of internal injuries suffered from a single gunshot wound to his stomach, Assistant Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said.

Toxicology tests that would show whether drugs or alcohol played a role are not expected back for up to eight weeks, officials have said.

Paul Webster, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, called the matter a serious one in a statement Tuesday. The group is hoping for a thorough investigation to ensure that policies were followed.

He also suggested that all county law enforcement agencies adopt Tasers “as a non-lethal option to safely disable potentially dangerous individuals and avoid the loss of life.”

Initial calls Saturday came in from near the Cumberland Farms at Elm Street. One witness reported being threatened by a man with a knife, and a clerk reported the man threatening people with knives and trying to get into cars.

Police responded and began walking behind the suspect as he walked east on State Street for several blocks, with officers and bystanders telling the man to drop the knives.

The man refused to drop the knives. Along the way, one officer placed his patrol car between the suspect and a family at a bus stop.

Tomlin was shot after turning onto Elbert Street. Police said he took several quick steps toward Ritz, prompting the shots.

Saturday’s incident wasn’t the first time Tomlin was accused of making a disturbance on a Schenectady street.

Just after midnight on May 11, 2003, Officer Eric Reyell was on patrol on Nott Terrace when he spotted Tomlin obstructing the southbound lane, according to the incident report filed in court.

Tomlin, then 19, was taken into custody for disorderly conduct. During a pat down, Reyell found a .38-caliber Derringer in Tomlin’s pants. Tomlin struggled and attempted to flee but was quickly handcuffed.

Tomlin was charged then with felony weapons possession, misdemeanor resisting arrest and possessing an imitation controlled substance. He later pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to 21⁄2 years in state prison. He was released in May 2005, and his post-release supervision expired in June 2008.

Estrada described Tomlin, who went by the first name Chris, as energetic and down to earth. He liked being outside and listening to music.

Tomlin was also the father of a young daughter. Tomlin, Estrada said, was close to his mother.

Family members were only notified of Tomlin’s death Monday. Police had difficulty finding relatives.

Those who knew Tomlin were still dealing with what happened Tuesday, Estrada said.

“In my head, it’s like he’s here,” Estrada said. “In reality, I don’t want to accept that he’s gone for no good reason.”

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