City Council members divided over shooting of suspect in struggle with RPD officer
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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — City Council members are divided in their response to Monday’s shooting of a suspect who was involved in a struggle with a Rochester police officer.
In a statement written and released before they watched the body camera video of a police-involved shooting Monday, three members of the Rochester City Council criticized police and suggested non-lethal weapons should be used.
Mary Lupien, Stanley Martin and Kim Smith wrote: “Police are equipped with non-lethal weapons intended to preserve life, yet these shootings continue to occur, causing irreparable harm to the victims, their families and the Rochester community at large.”
However, when we looked at the body camera video carefully after it was released by RPD Thursday, we saw the police officer involved running with his taser not his gun.
And in a statement Friday afternoon, five members of council released their own statement calling the statement of Lupien, Martin and Smith “blatantly irresponsible.”
“The statement released by our colleagues prioritized personal politics over the safety of the Rochester community,” council members Miguel Melendez, Willie Lightfoot, LaShay Harris, Mitch Gruber and Michael Patterson wrote. “We condemn that practice and call on our colleagues to speak out in the future in a way that brings unity to our body and community by fostering respect and dignity for all.”
Council member Jose Peo was not included in the statement.
Later Friday afternoon, Lupien, Smith and Martin issued another statement, in the form of a letter to Rochester residents. It reads in part: “For many of us, the first reaction to any shooting in our community is fear, anger and grief. The follow-up should always be accountability and seeking to understand why this happened and how we could prevent such a tragedy from happening in the future.”
This started with gunshots Monday night. The suspected shooter ran from police. Seconds before the officer caught him, the video shows the officer running while holding his taser. Six seconds after the officer and suspect collide and start fighting, you can hear the taser firing.
“The body-worn camera footage demonstrates that in this case, the RPD did exactly what this Council and our constituents have asked of them,” the statement of the majority of council members wrote. “Officers pursued someone who was clearly endangering the community around him, but they also showed restraint and demonstrated compassion.”
Ten seconds later in the video, you hear the suspect tell the officer to shoot him and you hear the gun shots.
Suspect: “Shoot me (inaudible).”
Ofc: Let go!
Suspect: “Shoot me! (bang bang) Shoot me!”
Suspect: “Shoot me! (bang)”
Two more shots would be fired. The suspect was hit in the jaw. He is alive at Strong Memorial Hospital.
“I felt personally that it was very irresponsible to release that statement particularly without viewing the body camera footage,” Council President Miguel Melendez told us Thursday afternoon after he had watched the video.
Then, referring to the statement of Lupien, Martin and Smith, he said “it referenced that non-lethal options should be used first. And in this incident it’s very clear that the officer was actually running with the taser.”
On Friday, 10 police chiefs including RPD Chief David Smith and Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter signed a letter critical of the council members, writing basic facts “are missing” in their statement. They wrote “This young officer was doing his job to protect city residents from the lawlessness that these legislators both support and enable with their reckless, extreme behavior over time. This is just the latest example. It must be rejected outright.”
Here is the full letter sent at 5:45 p.m. today by Smith, Martin and Lupien:
Dear Rochester Residents,
When we ran to be your Council Members, we promised you that we would stand on principles of accountability and transparency, and would do everything in our power to challenge systems that often do not work for, or with, our communities. We have done everything within our power to fulfill that duty.
We continue our commitment to youin the midst of our discomfort; being called “nasty” and “disgusting”, ostracized, and isolated by our Council colleagues. The material threats to our lives will not shake us — we will not back down. We will always stand up for you, regardless of the cost.
When a system is not held accountable to its people, when harmful policies and practices are not challenged, the result is the death of Daniel Prude, a housing crisis, an overdose crisis, youth violence, and Rochester remaining one of the poorest cities in the nation for decades. We are not okay.
We embrace the humanity of every resident and public servant. They have the right to exist freely, to heal, transform, and recover. Each of us has someone in our lives who deserves care, and compassion, regardless of the circumstances. For many of us, the first reaction to any shooting in our community is fear, anger and grief. The follow-up should always be accountability and seeking to understand why this happened and how we could prevent such a tragedy from happening in the future.
These systems cannot go unchecked. We are also Rochester residents who are impacted by violence. Our call to action is two-fold:
1. We will bring together key stakeholders, community leaders and directly impacted members of our community to findreal solutions that end the constant cycles of violence that have plagued our community for too long
2. We ask that you remain vigilant, and join us in challenging these failed systems
Our community is hurting. Something has to change.
We end with a grounding that we often lean on in the midst of tragedies such as these:
It is our duty to fight for our freedom, it’s our duty to win. We must love and support each other, we have nothing to lose but our chains.
Here’s today’s full statement sent at 4:08 p.m. today by Melendez, Gruber, Harris, Lightfoot and Patterson:
“We, the majority of Rochester City Council, are deeply disappointed by the recent statement released by three of our colleagues to the media regarding the officer-involved shooting on September 25th. We recognize our colleagues’ right to express their views and opinions on any matter, but to comment on this incident without viewing the body-worn camera video was blatantly irresponsible.
“In the future, we strongly recommend that our colleagues watch the body-worn camera footage and look at all associated evidence before rushing to judgment.
“This Council has consistently asked the Rochester Police Department to improve their practices, specifically when it comes to use of force. The body-worn camera footage demonstrates that in this case, the RPD did exactly what this Council and our constituents have asked of them. Officers pursued someone who was clearly endangering the community around him, but they also showed restraint and demonstrated compassion.
“Specifically, the officer involved deliberately used less-than-lethal methods in pursuit of the individual, and once the situation escalated to the use of the officer’s firearm, additional Officers worked diligently to save his life. If we are going to call RPD out when they misstep, we must also recognize when they do the right thing.
“The statement released by our colleagues prioritized personal politics over the safety of the Rochester community. We condemn that practice and call on our colleagues to speak out in the future in a way that brings unity to our body and community by fostering respect and dignity for all.”
And here is the previous statement Wednesday by Martin, Smith and Lupien:
“We share our deepest sympathies with the young man who was shot by the Rochester Police Department this week, and offer our condolences to his family. Following this traumatic incident, we can only hope for healing and recovery.
The news of yet another young man shot while fleeing an RPD officer has unfortunately become all too familiar in our city. This is not normal — it is unacceptable, and we reject all efforts by the RPD to make our community believe otherwise.
Media explanations alluding to former convictions and the possession of drugs do not address the potential loss of human life and are not satisfactory justification for shooting a fellow human being. Police are equipped with non-lethal weapons intended to preserve life, yet these shootings continue to occur, causing irreparable harm to the victims, their families and the Rochester community at large.“