An attempted suicide-by-cop ended in a Schenectady police officer shooting a knife-wielding man inside The Daily Gazette’s main office around 4 p.m. Saturday.
Elvis Norwood, 21, of Hattie Street in Schenectady, was expected to survive, police said, despite being shot three times when he lunged with a knife at a police officer trying to calm him down.
“At this point, we’re forced to believe that this was an attempt of suicide by the police,” said Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett. “We have spoken with a family member, who indicates to us this subject lately has been expressing suicidal thoughts, and we have one case we know of in our files where he was taken by the police department to Ellis Hospital within the last 10 days on a pickup order from the hospital.”
Bennett said he believes the shooting followed state law and police policy.
“At the point when you feel that there is an imminent threat to your health or safety, you’re permitted by the penal law to use deadly physical force,” he said, adding that Tasers in this situation would not have been appropriate because Norwood was within 20 feet of the officers.
Norwood entered the Gazette’s lobby at 2345 Maxon Road Ext. around 3 p.m., after asking a security guard to let him in to get a drink of water. The security officer and Gazette employees said that he appeared drowsy, medicated and “very vacant-looking” when he first arrived at the Gazette’s locked front doors.
For about 45 minutes, he wandered around the main lobby, circulation department and first-floor hallways. The security guard, Fred Behrmann, an employee of security company GS4, repeatedly asked him to leave.
Behrmann called the police, but Norwood had yet to display the knife — later determined to be a steak knife with a 9-inch blade — and the call was assigned a low priority. It was not called in as a 911 report. Bennett said later at a news conference at the Schenectady police headquarters that “at that time, we had numerous other calls that had to be responded to.”
The guard had also called the newspaper’s general manager, Daniel Beck, at his home, and Beck and his girlfriend, Linda Eldeen, arrived before Norwood displayed the knife.
Eldeen said she and Beck walked up to Norwood, who appeared tired and weak as he slouched against a wall at the back of the lobby. Eldeen said she asked him if he needed any help and he replied, “Yes, I need some help. Get me help,” she said.
During the brief conversation, Eldeen and Beck observed a shiny object in Norwood’s hand; the object turned out to be a knife that was previously hidden by baggy clothing. They realized that his left hand, holding the knife, was bleeding.
Eldeen said, “I was just going to say to him, ‘Come on, get up, let’s get out of here.’ Then I realized. He had his hand just loose down by his side, and then I realized it was blood on his hand. Then when I turned my head a little bit, I could actually see the shine of the knife.”
At that point, they said, they walked away and called 911.
Two officers responded in less than five minutes. They approached the building with guns drawn.
The two officers, three-year veteran Timothy Rizzo and four-year veteran Brett Ferris, were let into the building by the security guard.
“[They] engaged the suspect in conversation,” Bennett said.
For about five minutes, the officers tried to convince Norwood to drop his knife, but he did not respond. Additional officers then arrived as backup; they had Tasers.
“One of the officers had to go open the door to let the police officers that had the Tasers inside,” Bennett said. “And at that point, the remaining officer, who was probably five or six feet away from the indivdual, was approached and the subject made running movements at him. He ran at him with the knife pointed at him.”
Ferris then fired four rounds from his 40-caliber semiautomatic, striking Norwood three times — in the arm, chest and stomach.
Beck said, “He was going back and forth between the hallway and the elevator, just staring them down and pacing. He kept saying, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ They were trying to reason with him, telling him ‘drop it, drop the weapon.’ And he finally got into a straight-on confrontation and he came at them.”
He said the police opened fire at that moment and Norwood collapsed to the floor.
Norwood was treated at the scene by Schenectady Fire Department paramedics, and a Mohawk Ambulance transported him to Ellis Hospital at approximately 4:20 p.m.
Norwood was expected to survive. Ellis Hospital officials confirmed that he was discharged at 9:30 p.m., and police said he was taken to Albany Medical Center, where he was reported in stable condition.
Ferris and Rizzo will be placed on administrative leave in accordance with department procedure until they meet with the Employee Assistance Program and are cleared to return to duty, he said.
Two employees in the Gazette’s classifieds department said the man walked into their office some time after 3 p.m., looking confused and talking to himself.
Samantha Billsborrow, 21, said when she first arrived at the Gazette, the man was sitting in the lobby and staring at her.
“I got nervous, so as politely as I could, I said, ‘Hi, how are you?’ and just walked past him and thought, ‘that’s weird,’ ” said Billsborrow. “And then 20 minutes later, the kid’s walking into our office.”
Beck said people walk into the Gazette building all the time, often asking to use the bathroom.
“We say no, this isn’t a public facility,” he said. “But during the day, they come in, there’s enough people around and we’re out there quickly to escort people out. And that’s what we tried to do. We tried to be calm and just escort the guy out. But once we saw the knife in his hand, we’re not going to bother him.”