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Orange County News For Immediate Release Contact: Christopher Borek March 18, 2021 845.291.3276, 845.238.4245c
District Attorney Hoovler Announces Final Findings in
Off-Duty Police-Involved Shooting Investigation
Orange County Grand Jury Clears Off-Duty Detective Who Fatally Shot
Neighbor Who Came to Detective’s Residence and Tried to Stab Him with a Knife
Independent Investigation by District Attorney’s Office Concludes That
Off-Duty Detective was Acting in Self-Defense and was Legally Justified in Using Deadly Physical Force
Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler announced that on March 17, 2021, an Orange County grand jury declined to file charges against an off-duty Town of Ramapo Police detective who shot a man on July 6, 2020, at the detective’s residence in the Town of Cornwall. An investigation determined that the man, who suffered from mental health issues and lived next-door to the detective, had shown up at the detective’s house unannounced and attempted to stab the detective with a knife. The man was subsequently shot and died. The Grand Jury’s finding, known as a “No True Bill,” ended the Grand Jury’s investigation, and ensured that no state criminal charges would be brought against the off-duty detective who shot the man.
Independently of the grand jury’s investigation, the Orange County District Attorney's Office, aided by the New York State Police and the Town of Cornwall Police Department, investigated the incident. District Attorney David M. Hoovler, Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Borek, Assistant District Attorney Richard Giordano, and District Attorney’s Office Criminal Investigators responded to the Town of Cornwall residence on the night of the incident, along with the New York State Police.
Under a pending Governor’s Executive Order, incidents where police shoot “unarmed” civilians must be investigated by the New York State Attorney General’s Office. After consultation with the Attorney General’s Office, however, it was determined that the investigation would most appropriately be handled by the District Attorney’s Office, because the police officer was off-duty and the deceased appeared to have attempted to stab the detective with a knife. Under a recently enacted statute that becomes effective April 1, 2021, all police-involved fatalities will be investigated by the New York State Attorney General’s Office, even if the police officer was off-duty at the time of the incident.
Although proceedings before grand juries are secret as a matter of law, the findings of the District Attorney’s Office, made from evidence uncovered outside of the grand jury proceeding, can be made public. New York State law delineates special situations when police officers may justifiably use deadly physical force in the course of their official duties. In most police-involved shootings, finders of fact, including grand juries, must first determine whether the police officer was justified in having used deadly physical force under those rules before considering whether criminal charges should be brought against a police officer. Where, as was the case in this situation, the police officer is off-duty and not acting as a police officer, those special rules do not apply. In this situation the law that is applied is identical to the law that applies to anyone who uses deadly physical force and claims to have acted in self-defense against someone who was using, or was about to use, deadly physical force against them or another.
The District Attorney’s investigation revealed:
On July 6, 2020, at approximately 10:55 p.m., an off-duty Town of Ramapo detective, along with members of his family, were inside their residence located on Main Street in the Town of Cornwall. At that time, a forty-year-old man, who lived next door to the detective, appeared unannounced at the side door of the residence. The solid side door was open at the time and there was a closed unlocked storm door, which had glass on the bottom and a screen on top. When the detective’s dog barked, one of the detective’s children went toward the door and became alarmed by what she perceived as an angry countenance and aggressive posture of the male neighbor.
The off-duty detective went to the door. At the time the detective was wearing a privately owned 9 mm handgun in a holster. The father of the man who went to the door, who also lived on a property adjoining the detective’s, stated that he heard the detective and his son arguing by the storm door. According to the detective, the man swung a knife at the detective as the storm door was opening and attempted to stab the detective, who was still standing inside his house. The detective shot the man once in the chest. The detective reported that the man who had been shot walked unsteadily down his driveway toward the street, before collapsing.
The father of the man who had been shot found an open folding knife on the ground approximately three feet from the man’s left hand. The detective called 911 to request police and an ambulance to aid the man he had shot. Subsequent DNA testing of the open folding knife revealed one DNA profile on the knife which matched the deceased man.
Officers of the Town of Cornwall Police, and ambulance personnel responded to the residence. Before medical personnel arrived, police officers and the off-duty detective attempted to render aid to the man who had been shot. The off-duty detective had taken off his shirt and used it to apply pressure to the bleeding bullet wound. The man who had been shot subsequently died.
The Town of Cornwall Police requested the aid of the New York State Police in the investigation, including securing forensic evidence. The 9 mm pistol used by the off-duty detective was secured in evidence. Police canvassed the area to ascertain if there was video evidence in the case. Although some video was recovered, none of the video showed the area where the shooting occurred. Members of the New York State Police Forensic Evidence Team found, photographed, and measured a number of items of physical evidence, including droplets of blood which went in an approximately 43-foot line from where the deceased man was found lying to the area near the side door of the detective’s residence. Similarly, the State Police forensic team also found, collected, and documented numerous pieces of what appeared to be broken gold-colored jewelry which extended in a line from the area of the side door to where the deceased man had been laying. The deceased man had been wearing numerous gold chains at the time that he was shot.
Police also documented scratches on the glass portion of the side-door and a hole in the door frame consistent with having been made by a knife. The off-duty detective’s daughter reported hearing a sound on the glass portion of the side-door immediately prior to hearing a gun shot. Both the detective and his daughter reported that the scratches on the glass and the hole in the doorframe were not there prior to the neighbor coming to the door.
It was later reported by the father of the deceased man that his son suffered from chronic mental health issues including bi-polar, schizoaffective, and social anxiety disorders; that his son was upset that police officers had been called on him a number of times for noise complaints; and that the detective’s family had loud parties where the police had not been summoned. Police had been summoned by the deceased man’s father a number of times for help in dealing with his son when he was suffering from acute mental health issues. On March 1, 2020, Town of Cornwall Police Officers had unsuccessfully deployed a taser on the deceased man after he had menaced them with a knife. After the deceased man had dropped the knife he was subdued by officers. The deceased man’s father stated that his son frequently carried a knife for “protection.”
Earlier on July 6, 2020, the deceased man was heard by one of the off-duty detective’s daughters yelling in his yard threatening that he was going to “machine gun” someone. A recording of his yelling was obtained by the District Attorney’s Office.
A shell casing from the 9 mm pistol fired by the off-duty detective was recovered by members of the New York State Police Forensic Team at the bottom of the basement stairs in the detective’s residence. That pistol ejects spent shell casings to the right of the pistol and slightly to the rear of the pistol. The top of the basement stairs is directly to the right of the side door to the residence as one faces out the door. Police confirmed that from the time the off-duty duty detective was found in the driveway he was not allowed in the house except for a brief time that he was escorted by police officers preserving the crime scene. The location of the shell casing indicates that the off-duty detective was inside of his residence at the side-door when he fired the shot.
Although the deceased man’s father stated that after he had heard the off-duty detective and his son arguing by the detective’s side-door, he saw his son run down the detective’s driveway toward the street, followed by the detective and had heard the shot when they were both down at the end of the driveway, the forensic evidence fully corroborates the off-duty detective’s statement that the shooting occurred when he was still inside his house and the deceased was at the side-door. The spent shell casing could not have fallen to the bottom of the basement stairs if the shot had occurred outside of the house as the deceased man’s father described. Moreover, the trail of blood and the trail of jewelry both indicate that the shot had occurred by the side-door. The scratches on the door’s glass and the hole in the frame are also consistent with having been made by a knife.
The Medical Examiner’s Office autopsy report indicates that the deceased died of a gunshot wound and that the bullet travelled from front to back and slightly downward. Fragments of jewelry were found in the deceased’s body during the autopsy. In the opinion of the doctor who performed the autopsy, the bullet struck a pendant that the deceased had been wearing causing some of the jewelry to follow the bullet into the deceased’s body. The doctor also indicated that the direction of travel of the bullet is consistent with the shooter having been somewhat elevated from the deceased at the time of the shot and the deceased leaning forward. These finding are consistent with the off-duty detective’s statement that he was just inside of the side-door, and the defendant was down one stair immediately by the side door and was lunging at him with the knife at the time he shot the deceased.
After reviewing all the attendant facts and circumstances involving this shooting, including interviews of civilian witnesses and police officers, and a review of the available evidence, it is the conclusion of the District Attorney's Office that the off-duty detective’s actions in this case were justified under the New York State Penal Law in that he used deadly physical force in self-defense as he was being confronted with the use of deadly physical force by the deceased.
District Attorney Hoovler thanked the Town of Cornwall Police Department, The Town of Ramapo Police Department and the New York State Police for their assistance and cooperation in this investigation.
The District Attorney’s office is aware that some of this information being made public will no doubt be disturbing for the deceased man’s family and loved-ones, but its release is the only way that the community can have absolute confidence in the integrity and transparency of this investigation and in the inescapable conclusion that the off-duty detective legally acted in self-defense.
“It is clear that this off-duty detective was legally justified in using deadly physical force to avoid being attacked with a knife inside his home,” said District Attorney Hoovler. “It is always a tragedy when someone loses their life, and never more so than when the deceased was suffering from mental illness and associated issues. My deepest condolences go out to the family of the deceased man and particularly to his father. Those who suffer from mental health issues and their families deserve support from the community. Tragic events like these have life altering consequences for all of the families involved.”
The investigation was handled by Assistant District Attorney Richard Giordano and Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Borek.