ALBANY – With jurors “absolutely deadlocked,” according to one juror, a judge declared a mistrial Monday in a civil trial to determine whether a Schenectady Police Department detective’s use of lethal force in a 2016 shooting was justified.
The jurors were split four-four, and “every time we went to hear the evidence, people were standing firm,” said juror Prastut Sharma, 29, of Cohoes, after Judge Therese Wiley Dancks declared a mistrial in the case being heard in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of New York. Sharma declined to provide his own opinion on the case.
“We feel that any further discussions will not produce a unanimous verdict,” read the jury’s note delivered to the judge on Monday.
The jury — five men and three women — began deliberating Thursday at about 12:30 p.m. and delivered three notes declaring their inability to reach a unanimous decision before Dancks declared the mistrial at about 11:30 a.m. Monday.
A new trial will be scheduled at a later date.
The jury was tasked with deciding whether Schenectady Police Detective Brett Ferris faced a credible threat to his own life or a risk of significant injury before firing six shots at 33-year-old Joshua Scism, killing him with a single bullet in the back of the head on June 13, 2016.
The fatal shooting is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed in 2018 by Scism’s widow, Chrystal Scism, administrator of Joshua Scism’s estate. The suit alleges Scism’s death came as a result of excessive lethal force at the hands of police.
Scism, who was present at the courthouse each day since the trial began a week ago, declined comment after the mistrial declaration.
Andrew Finkelstein, an attorney for Scism, said his team would be ready to retry the case.
“Sometimes the wheels of justice turn slowly, but ultimately they will turn for the Scism family,” Finkelstein said. “There were four jurors who accepted the evidence as presented that Detective Ferris was not justified in killing Josh Scism.”
Before walking out of the courtroom, defense attorney Gregg Johnson said it had been a long week, but his team was ready to try it another time.
“We’re ready to do it again,” Johnson said.
During closing arguments, Finkelstein asked the jury to consider an award of between $10 million and $15 million for the plaintiff.
The shooting occurred during a June 13, 2016, drug sting in Scism’s neighborhood involving three Schenectady police detectives and a confidential informant. As the law enforcement team was setting up for the operation on First Avenue, Scism approached the parked minivan and told the undercover officers to leave and that he had children. But after Ferris, who was in the driver’s seat, saw Scism had a gun, he shouted “he’s got a heater,” and got out of the minivan before firing six shots, one of them fatal, over the course of 1.7 seconds. The entire interaction between Ferris and Scism lasted 22 seconds.
Ferris, who started working for Schenectady police in 2007, never verbally identified himself as a police officer, saying under oath there wasn’t an opportunity to do so. But he did shout “get on the [expletive] ground.” Ferris also testified that he showed Scism his badge clipped to his belt and that Scism looked in his direction.
In closing arguments Thursday morning, Finkelstein argued that Scism was running for his life from a shooter he suspected to be a drug dealer. The plaintiff’s team argued Scism never waved his gun at police.
But the defense argued Scism, who was not the subject of the drug sting and was not previously known to the members of law enforcement on the scene, showed his weapon to the undercover cops in a threatening way and that he was in the process of turning to shoot when Ferris began firing his own gun.
Scism never fired his weapon.
Another detective, Ryan Kent, as well as the city of Schenectady and its police department, were named in the original lawsuit, but the claims against all but Ferris have since been dismissed. A judge denied Ferris’ motion for dismissal, and he appealed. The federal appeals court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, earlier this year sided with the estate and allowed the portion against Ferris to stand, leading to last week’s trial.
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.