A knife-wielding man was shot and killed by a Schenectady police officer Saturday afternoon on central State Street.
Officers responding to requests for police converged on the man and walked with him for several blocks along State Street. The man had accosted several bystanders and drivers with one of two knives, police said. No other injuries were reported.
The man started toward a family with children waiting at a bus stop before an officer blocked the suspect’s path with his patrol car, police said.
As a crowd gathered, with six officers near the man, he took several quick steps toward Officer Edward Ritz and Ritz fired twice, hitting the suspect once in the stomach at about 3:25 p.m. The man was pronounced dead an hour later at Ellis Hospital.
“At this point,” Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett told reporters Saturday evening, “I feel very comfortable in telling you that I see nothing that indicates anything to me that Officer Ritz did not comply with the law or the regulations of the Schenectady Police Department.
“He defended himself.”
The suspect’s identity was not released Saturday. Police said they were still trying to determine who he was, using fingerprints and other means to identify him. He was described as in his 30s. An autopsy was expected. Toxicology tests could show whether drugs or alcohol were involved, police said. State police forensics units were assisting.
The incident went on for at least 10 minutes. The initial call came in at 3:15 p.m. as a crowd gathered to watch the events unfold. Police were interviewing many witnesses, Bennett said.
Police were also combing through in-car cameras and audio recordings of the incident, as well as a police surveillance camera at Elm and State streets. The information will go toward a dual investigation, Bennett said, one into the actions of the suspect and one into the shooting itself.
Ritz, an 11-year-veteran of the department who was shot while on duty 10 years ago, may take some personal time, Bennett said, but otherwise could remain on duty. He was shot by a suspect in 1999, with the bullet stopped by his bulletproof vest.
The shooting was the first time a Schenectady police officer fired his service weapon at a suspect since 2002.
Saturday afternoon’s events unfolded quickly, police said, with multiple calls coming in to dispatchers.
Two initial calls came in, one after another, one between the McDonald’s and the Cumberland Farms, where the caller reported he was threatened with a knife by a man who demanded cigarettes.
Moments later, a second call came in from an employee at the Cumberland Farms at State and Elm streets. The man was now in their parking lot, threatening people with knives and trying to get into cars, police spokesman Det. Kevin Green said.
Officers converged on the scene as the suspect continued east on State Street. Officers soon began to follow him on foot, trying to get him to drop the knives and surrender. He refused, police said. By the end, six officers followed the man.
People driving by also yelled out their windows, telling him to drop the knife, Green said.
From where the suspect was initially reported to where he was shot was about a half mile.
It was near Fehr Avenue that Officer Kevin Maloney saw the man go toward the family at the bus stop, Green said. Maloney, coming down Fehr Avenue, put his patrol car between the man and the family.
The man then turned onto Elbert Street, a continuation of Fehr Avenue. Surrounded by officers, he took several steps toward Ritz, Bennett said. He was about 20 feet away.
Ritz fired twice, hitting the man in the stomach with one shot and hitting the street with the second.
At the news conference, Bennett described a CDTA bus at the scene, saying the suspect tried to board the bus but was stopped by officers. Bennett did not mention the family at the bus stop.
Green said later he spoke with Maloney directly about blocking the bus stop. Green could not confirm that a bus was in the area.
Witness Darcell Mills, of Schenectady, also said he did not see a bus. Mills said he witnessed the incident from his car while driving with family and friends.
Mills watched police follow the man from the Family Dollar parking lot on State Street to the corner of State Street and Elder Street, about two blocks east of the Cumberland Farms.
“I was there before the police got there,” Mills said. “He had the knife at his side and just kept walking.”
Mills snapped photos and video of the scene with his cellphone — video that shows officers chasing the unidentified man and photos of the shooting. He said he disputed the account that the suspect lunged, saying he did not see that. “They cornered him,” Mills said of the shooting.
Asked later about the account, police spokesman Green said everyone they’ve spoken with supports the officers’ account and described the officers as showing great restraint. He invited Mills to contact the department and give a statement.
Asked whether Ritz could have simply taken a step back, Bennett said he would not have supported that. He noted what the suspect was accused of doing over the previous half mile.
Police Chief Mark Chaires also noted department training where officers learn that a person with a knife could close a gap and injure someone even if there’s enough time to shoot them two or three times.
“The officers also did not have to allow him to even take those steps,” Bennett said. They could have shot him where he stood.
“Keep in mind all the things he did to that point,” Bennett said. “They are under no obligation to experiment with this individual.”
He also noted the crowd forming. “Can you imagine if he had broken that perimeter?
“It could not be allowed to continue,” Bennett said. “One way or the other, it had to end. He obviously made choices to cause the end to come the way it did."