ALBANY – A May trial date has been set for the remaining portion of a lawsuit over the 2016 Schenectady police shooting death of Joshua Scism.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court recently allowed the suit to continue to trial, rebuffing the defense’s effort to get the last portion of the case – the part against the detective who fired the fatal shots – dismissed.
The lawsuit in federal court concerns the June 13, 2016 police shooting death of Joshua Scism near his home on First Avenue.
The lawsuit, brought by Scism’s widow Chrystal Scism, contends Joshua Scism was walking away from two detectives and unarmed when he was shot.
Police have said Joshua Scism had taken a handgun from his waistband and pointed it at the detectives during the incident. City officials have said the detectives were correct in their actions and that a gun was recovered after the incident.
In 2018, Chrystal Scism, as administrator of Joshua Scism’s estate, filed the federal lawsuit against the city, the police department and the two detectives involved in the shooting, Ryan Kent and Brett Ferris, claiming excessive force, among other arguments.
The claims against all but Ferris have since been dismissed. A judge denied Ferris’ motion for dismissal last fall and he appealed. The federal appeals court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, earlier this month sided with the estate and allowed the portion against Ferris to stand.
The appellate ruling also offered some background on the case, some of which appeared not to have been described previously.
According to the background, the detectives had been there preparing for an undercover drug buy when Ferris shot and killed Joshua Scism. The background noted Scism was a local resident who was not involved in the buy.
Kent is described in the background as only being present during the shooting.
The judge presiding over the case dismissed the claims against the city and against Kent, whom the judge found was entitled to qualified immunity. But the same judge denied the motion related to Ferris.
The appeals court also noted that Ferris will get to continue to pursue his “qualified immunity” argument as the case proceeds to trial.
The presiding judge in the case has set the trial to start May 31 in Albany.
On appeal, Ferris argued that “the undisputed facts make clear that he reasonably believed that his life was in danger when he shot Scism and that his actions were therefore objectively reasonable,” the appeals court recounted in its decision.
The appeals court continued, “the record, however, is filled with disputes as to material facts.”
The court also noted that Ferris sometimes treated disputed facts as undisputed in his appeal, noting specifically assertions that Scism “brandished a loaded handgun” and “ignored police commands,” quoting from the defense appeal.
The factual disputes meant the appeals court could not alter the lower court’s decision to let the suit against Ferris go forward.
“We conclude that, given the version of the full encounter advanced by (the estate’s) witnesses, Ferris cannot at this state meet ‘the burden of showing that [his decision to use lethal force] was objectively reasonable in light of the law existing at that time,'” the appeals court wrote, quoting a previous decision.
“We therefore agree with the District Court that summary judgement must be denied,” the appeals court wrote.
While the jury must resolve the factual disputes related to both excessive force and qualified immunity, the qualified immunity issue is better left to the court, the appeals court wrote.
If the jury found Ferris used excessive force against Scism, the court should then decide whether Ferris is entitled to the immunity, the appeals court wrote.
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