The knife-wielding man who rushed at officers and was shot three times in the lobby of The Daily Gazette apologized in court Friday for his actions and was sentenced to 21⁄2 years in state prison.
Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago handed down the sentence for Elvis Norwood while also calling for greater resources for the mentally ill.
Norwood, 22, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and authorities said it appeared he was off his medication and having a psychotic episode when he lunged at officers with the knife on Oct. 8, 2011.
Norwood pleaded guilty earlier to one count of menacing a police officer. In exchange, he accepted a sentence of up to five years in state prison or as little as time served.
In sentencing Norwood on Friday, Drago said she took into account his mental illness and that he is on his medications and appears to be doing well now.
“I know you’re stabilized, but I can’t ignore the fact that your actions, in a public building, caused an officer to discharge his weapon,” Drago told Norwood, “and I don’t think anyone disagrees that you put an awful lot of people in serious jeopardy. And for that, I have to punish you.”
Norwood was accused of illegally remaining inside the newspaper’s locked offices after being let inside by a security guard. He came to the building on a Saturday, when the main offices are closed. No one else was hurt.
The guard let him inside on a request for water. However, he would not leave after entering the building. Witnesses said Norwood appeared drowsy, medicated and “very vacant-looking” when he arrived.
Only later was it determined that he had a knife. Police were called and Norwood soon rushed them. Officer Brett Ferris fired four shots, hitting Norwood three times. Arriving with Ferris was Officer Timothy Rizzo.
Norwood has since fully recovered from his injuries. He was hit in the arm, chest and stomach.
“I apologize for what took place that day,” Norwood told the court. “Now I know to take my medication.”
According to police and family, Norwood was at Ellis Hospital twice for suicidal thoughts in the days leading up to the incident. Police took him there on a pickup order on one of those occasions. Family said he took himself there on the other.
Drago noted those prior visits to Ellis, saying that she was concerned that Norwood was discharged just days before the Gazette incident. The judge, though, followed that by quickly saying she did not know how he presented himself at the time, “but it does make one pause at the type of services our mentally ill are getting in this county.”
She then referenced a lack of resources in her own alternative treatment court. Similar to drug court, the alternative treatment court focuses on offenders whose crimes have roots in mental illness. Norwood’s attorney, Sven Paul, noted that he had asked for his client to be included in that program, but the nature of the crime made Norwood ineligible.
Drago ordered that Norwood receive any mental health counseling that he is entitled to while in prison, calling it “imperative” that the Department of Correctional Services do so to keep Norwood stabilized and so he could be released to be a productive member of society.
“It’s about time that we as a community, and as an institution, step up to the plate and provide people with the services that they need to be productive members of the community,” Drago said.
Parole officials, she said, also need to do what they can to assist Norwood when he is released. She gave Norwood three years of post-release supervision, the maximum allowed.
Drago told Norwood she couldn’t impress upon him enough that he needs to be consistent with his medication and any treatment that professionals deem appropriate for him.
Prosecutor John Healy called for prison time, saying that while it wasn’t in dispute that significant mental health issues were involved, the danger presented by what happened required lengthy incarceration.
Norwood’s attorney Paul noted that his office got Norwood seen by a psychiatrist within days of his arrest. Thereafter, he received proper psychiatric care and appropriate medication. Since then, Norwood has been “a soft-spoken, very courteous, very intelligent young man,” Paul said.
“I think it goes without saying that the driving force in this case is my client’s significant mental health history,” Paul said.
Paul asked Drago for leniency, saying he’s going to have a struggle with his mental health issues for the rest of his life.