The city police officer who shot and killed a knife-wielding man in August 2009 has been formally cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney made the determination after reviewing a large amount of evidence in the case, including a video of the actual shooting.
The evidence showed that city police did all they could, including exploring several options for disarming and subduing the man, in the minutes leading up to the shooting, Carney said. He said the evidence was so strong there was no need for a grand jury to hear the case.
Carney had initially indicated a grand jury would hear the case, but after reviewing all the evidence concluded the use of deadly physical force was justified.
Killed in the shooting on Aug. 1, 2009, was 25-year-old James C. Tomlin of Schenectady. Tomlin was shot once in the chest by Officer Edward Ritz.
Carney’s letter, dated July 1 and released on Wednesday, outlines the case in detail, from its origins in reports of attempted robberies near the Cumberland Farms on State Street to its deadly conclusion a half-mile away, on Elbert Street, alongside Doug’s Tailgate Tavern.
Among the revelations in the report was that Ritz was only 8 feet from Tomlin when he fired and that Tomlin had a knife in each hand when he was shot.
Carney also noted that five people witnessed the pursuit down State Street and the shooting. None of the witnesses contradicted the police version.
As for Tomlin’s mental state, Carney wrote that he had been treated previously for schizophrenia. The mother of his child told Carney that Tomlin wasn’t compliant with his medication. The autopsy showed no drugs or alcohol in his system. It also showed no trace of the medication prescribed to Tomlin.
Officers had followed Tomlin, keeping a distance of about 20 feet. On Elbert Street, though, Tomlin quickly turned and began advancing toward them.
“His hands were down at his sides with his wrists twitching the knives as he advanced,” Carney wrote, describing the video captured by a police car camera. “He does not appear to be running, but he advanced rapidly toward Officer Ritz and closed the distance between them.”
Ritz fired twice, hitting Tomlin once, and Tomlin fell to the ground.
at close range
Analysis of the video, using fixed points on the tavern and other evidence, led investigators to conclude Tomlin had closed the 20-foot distance to 8 feet, Carney wrote.
“This distance is far too close to maintain a position of safety for an officer confronting a knife-wielding suspect,” Carney wrote. “Mr. Tomlin was only one or two lunging steps away from Officer Ritz when the officer shot him.
“The fact that Officer Ritz immediately jumped backward after discharging his weapon shows that he perceived the imminent danger presented by Mr. Tomlin’s sudden advance.”
The report’s conclusion, released nearly two years after the incident, was consistent with comments made by Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett at a press conference the day of the shooting. He said then that Ritz defended himself.
Bennett said on Wednesday he’d spoken with Ritz and that Ritz was pleased that the report was complete.
“It’s not an easy situation,” Bennett said. “Nobody wanted it to end this way, but, given the tools that we had available and the circumstances officers were in, there was no other option here but the one that Officer Ritz took.”
In the aftermath of the shooting, public discussion began about electronic stun guns, which the Schenectady Police Department did not have. The department had had discussions previously about the weapons, and those discussions accelerated as a result of the Tomlin shooting. They have been in use since April of this year.
Carney noted the stun gun discussion in his report, saying that it would have been preferable to have them as an option. He also noted that they are now in use by the department.
The incident began at the Cumberland Farms, 1265 State St., with at least three 911 calls advising police of a knife-wielding man attempting to carjack two vehicles, then pulling a knife on individuals.
In one instance, Tomlin put a knife to the throat of a woman at 1234 State St., demanding cigarettes. That constituted the crime of first-degree robbery, Carney noted.
Initially, officers saw only one knife in Tomlin’s hand. He repeatedly refused officers’ demands to drop the knife. He also periodically turned and swung the knife to keep officers away.
Ritz at one point told Officer Jeffrey Remillard to take out his baton, hoping to disarm Tomlin by hitting his hand, but Tomlin soon pulled out the second knife.
Officers also discussed using pepper spray on Tomlin, but the wind was blowing toward the officers, making that impossible.
At another point, Officer Mari Mosher tried to block Tomlin with her patrol car. She discussed bumping him with her car, but never had the opportunity.
When Tomlin and officers arrived at State and Elbert streets, a CDTA bus arrived at the same time, dropping off a woman and her three children. Officer Kevin Maloney then maneuvered his patrol car between Tomlin and the family. A CDTA camera captured part of the scene.
Tomlin began moving south on Elbert, continuing to wave his knives. Mosher followed in her cruiser, as did Malone.
It was Maloney’s cruiser that ended up being in position to catch what happened next on its in-car video system.
Tomlin turned, took more than three steps toward officers and Ritz opened fire.
Tomlin died later at Ellis Hospital.
“His unfortunate death was a direct result of his own conduct and no criminal liability can attach to any of the police officers whose job it was to apprehend him that day,” Carney wrote.