Schenectady

Investigation determines Schenectady officer justified in shooting at stolen car

Officer cleared in report following Nov. 1 shooting
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford addresses members of the media, January 9, 2020.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford addresses members of the media, January 9, 2020.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — An internal police investigation has determined the city police officer who fired a single shot at a stolen vehicle operated by a teenage joyrider acted lawfully.

“I’ve concluded that the force used in this incident was lawful, and I’ll be making that recommendation to District Attorney Robert Carney,” said Police Chief Eric Clifford on Friday. 

Dashboard camera video of the Nov. 1 incident showed Sgt. Adam Willetts following a stolen sedan to a parking lot on Hulett Street and then getting out of his vehicle.

After the car backed up and drove toward him, Willetts jumped out of the way and squeezed off a single shot, which went through the driver’s side window and missed the driver. 

A brief foot chase left the 15-year-old driver with minor facial scrapes.

Evidence in the investigation included eyewitness testimony and surveillance cameras.

The Schenectady Police Department does not have specific training for when a motor vehicle careens toward an officer, Clifford acknowledged.

“This is something that we’ll be working on in the future with training.” 

Department protocol does state officers should get out of the way of a moving vehicle, but they are authorized to use deadly physical force if they feel as if their lives are in imminent danger. 

“The only reason to use deadly physical force is to stop the threat,” Clifford said.

After determining the vehicle was reported stolen, Willetts began following the sedan and later called for backup. 

The incident, Clifford said, unfolded in two seconds. 

“This was a high-stress and rapidly unfolding situation,” he said.

Willetts, a 10-year veteran of the force, is expected to be reassigned from desk duty on Friday. 

Cliffords declined to discuss the status of the driver, who faces numerous felonies, citing his juvenile status. 

Authorities are still seeking the whereabouts of his passenger after he escaped from the car and disappeared. 

PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Dash cam video shows Schenectady police Officer Sgt. Adam Willetts drawing his fire arm on a stolen vehicle during a news conference Friday, January 9, 2020.PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Dash cam video shows Schenectady police Officer Sgt. Adam Willetts drawing his fire arm on a stolen vehicle during a news conference Friday, January 9, 2020.

While all officers are equipped with body cameras, Willetts failed to active his unit.

“There is a transition period when we have to adapt with best practices,” Clifford said.

The internal report will not be released to the public. 

Carney said he doesn’t yet know if he will convene a grand jury to review the incident.

“I’ll take it under advisement, and I’m sure I’ll have something to say at some point,” Carney said.

Angelicia Morris, executive director of the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission, said she felt “disturbed” by the video, but said she was glad it was released.

A key priority now is working with city police on training that would avoid similar situations in the future, she said.

At the same time, the city and neighborhood organizations must continue to provide strong programming for at-risk youth, she said. 

“The lack of fatherhood and lack of family leads to juveniles doing this behavior,” Morris said. “So it’s all about resources and programs in place for our youth to have here in the city of Schenectady.”

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