State AG calls probe of fatal Troy police shooting flawed

Incident not thoroughly investigated, report says

TROY — The Troy Police Department mishandled the investigation into a 2016 fatal shooting by a city officer, the state Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday. It also said the officer’s account of when he opened fire contradicted the evidence.

The attorney general, however, could find no evidence to contradict the officer’s central claim that he felt his life was in danger when he shot and killed driver Edson Thevenin in April 2016.

The office found a lack of conclusive evidence on movements of Thevenin’s car immediately prior to Troy Sgt. Randall French opening fire. The Attorney General’s Office “cannot disprove that Sgt. French reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to defend himself.”

The attorney general issued the report in the complicated and long-running case. His office recently issued a three-count indictment against Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove for taking grand jury action in the case before the state Attorney General’s Office could investigate the shooting, as required by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 executive order concerning fatal police shootings. Abelove has denied wrongdoing. 

Among other things, the attorney general was critical of Abelove for granting Sgt. French immunity when testifying before the grand jury, even though the grand jury had not yet made a determination on whether he should be indicted. So French couldn’t have been prosecuted regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the AG noted.

“Our investigation uncovered significant problems with the Troy Police Department’s evidence collection, preservation, and analysis practices in this case,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a press release. “These problems included a flawed, prejudged analysis of the evidence and a failure to properly interview all of the available witnesses to the shooting. As detailed in the report, these failures undermined the homicide investigation and must be quickly and thoroughly addressed.”

The report focused on forensic analysis of the multiple bullet holes in Thevenin’s car windshield. The holes indicated that French couldn’t have fired them from a single position after he had been pinned by the car, as he had testified. Seven shots hit Thevenin. The report also alleged investigators “grossly mishandled” the handling of three witnesses and prejudged the outcome of the investigation.

The forensic information “conclusively established” that French had not yet been pinned when he started firing, the report reads. French fired from outside the driver’s side door of his patrol car, then moved to his left and fired additional shots, the AG’s report said. At some point he became pinned between Thevenin’s car and his own, the report reads.

French had stopped Thevenin, 37, on suspicion of drunk driving. Thevenin then fled in his car, leading to the final confrontation on the Collar City Bridge.

Troy Mayor Patrick Madden issued his own statement through the Police Department in response to the report. He argued that the Troy Police Department “continues to be unfairly involved in the jurisdictional dispute between the New York State Attorney General’s Office and the Rensselaer County District Attorney.”

“We fundamentally disagree with the attorney general’s findings contained within the SIPU report and are confident that the Troy Police Department’s operations and procedures remain consistent with best practices adhered to by law enforcement agencies across the state and nation,” Madden said.

The department, however, will continue to cooperate fully with the Attorney General’s Office, Madden said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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