SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady City Council approved a $1.5 million settlement with the family of a man shot and killed by a city detective in 2016 by a 4-2 vote during its meeting on Monday evening.
The city will be responsible for paying a $100,000 insurance deductible for the settlement with Crystal Scism, with the city’s insurance provider covering the remainder of the cost.
On June 13, 2016, Joshua Scism, 33, was shot and killed during a confrontation with Schenectady police Detective Brett Ferris.
Voting in favor of the settlement were Council President Marion Porterfield and Councilmen Damonni Farley, John Mootooveren and Carl Williams; opposed were Councilwoman Doreen Ditoro and Councilman John Polimeni.
“When this was first brought to us several years ago, I was opposed to this,” Polimeni said during the meeting. “I don’t believe our officers have done anything wrong. If they did, certainly I would be voting yes for this. I don’t think that we as a city, our Police Department, did anything incorrect. This was a gentleman [Joshua Scism] who pulled a gun and was shot. Unfortunately he died. It was a tragedy, no matter what you think of the individual. It’s a tragedy for the family and for that individual who’s no longer here.”
Polimeni noted during the meeting that he could not support the deal if he believed the officer had not erred during the deadly incident.
“I think there’s occasions where we need to stand up,” he said. “There’s been a number of these settlements unfortunately where there’s been nothing done wrong. In my opinion, that’s what’s happening in this case. If our department did something incorrect, that payment would not even come close to dealing with the tragedy the family is going through. But given the situation and the facts as presented to myself, I will vote no.”
Following the meeting, Porterfield said that she voted to support the settlement based on the recommendation of Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin.
“That’s what we pay him to do and based on his recommendation and his correspondence with our insurance company, it was the best outcome for the city because it could have cost us a lot more money if we kept going to court,” Porterfield said. “The entire settlement does not come from the city, we just have to pay our deductible.”
In August, a mistrial was declared in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of New York in Albany when a jury remained deadlocked on the question of Ferris’ use of force.
Mootooveren said following Monday’s meeting that it was prudent for the city to settle the issue instead of risking a larger payout at a potential second trial.
“There was a recommendation from our outside attorney, from our corporation counsel and also our insurance company,” Mootooveren said. “Because we as a council, if we decided not to move forward with this [settlement], we would be on the hook for upward of [$10 million to $12 million]. We had a hung jury before. ”
During an executive session during the council’s Claims Committee meeting on Dec.5, the committee voted to send the settlement to the full board for a vote.
Following Monday’s meeting, Mootooveren said he took issue with Polimeni’s public vote against the settlement earlier that evening.
“I’m surprised that Councilman Polimeni, who supported it during the initial stage, would say on the floor now that he doesn’t support it,” Mootooveren said. “It’s a political stunt. He supported it in the executive session to proceed and move forward. Now he’s backpedaled. We could either pay $100,000 or maybe be responsible for $9 million. It was a business decision.”
Mootooveren said there was a simple solution to avoid future settlements from the city.
“We can stop all these claims if we stop shooting people in the head,” he said. “I would be the first person to join Mr. Polimeni and say, ‘Don’t pay any claims moving forward.’ Let’s stop shooting people.”
Polimeni noted on Tuesday that he is not on the Claims Committee, which includes Farley, Williams and Councilwoman Carmel Partrick [who was absent from Monday’s council meeting].
Polimeni said that he has opposed the proposed settlement from the start.
“When this first came up about giving the authority for the settlement, I objected,” Polimeni said on Tuesday. “I said that I’m not going to put the city in danger, but I do object to this. When it passed out of the [Claims] Committee, I’m not on that committee. If I was, I would have voted against it. I’m not blaming my fellow council members for voting in favor of it. It’s pretty much dictated by the insurance company and my stance is that at some point we need to stand up occasionally.”
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said it was preferable for the board to approve the settlement.
“Any time you can settle one of these lawsuits, it’s always better,” he said after the meeting. “The numbers were large. It shows that we manage risk and had insurance in place and mitigated the downside for the city.”