Police officer shoots, kills Open Door Mission guest armed with knife in Rochester

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — One man is dead after Rochester police officers responded early Wednesday to the area of West Main Street for the report of a man with a “large knife.”

What happened

According to the Rochester Police Capt. Mark Mura, officers responded to Open Door Mission on West Main around 2:55 a.m.

Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said Open Door staff called police because a man stole a number of knives. The man was a guest of the Open Door Mission, but was not familiar to the staff member who called 911. Police say after he took knives from the kitchen of the facility, he left the building.

“While the officers were on the scene they gave this person more than several commands to drop the knife that he was carrying,” Chief Herriott-Sullivan said. “This person made threatening statements to kill the officers or the officers would have to kill him. The officers retreated over 400 feet and at that point the person ran toward the officers. At this point the officer fired at least once with his service weapon striking him once.”

The man was then transported to Strong Memorial Hospital by AMR where he was pronounced dead around 3:55 a.m.

“There was a point in this investigation when an officer called for other resources such as taser,” Chief Herriott-Sullivan said. “This incident occurred over several minutes which was not enough time for those resources.”

The chief said she also heard on the body worn camera footage that a bean bag gun was requested.

When asked if it the Forensic Intervention Team (FIT) or other mental health resources were called, RPD Capt. Mura said Wednesday morning the whole event happened too fast.

“The entire incident unfolded in about five to six minutes so there was no time to make any other calls other then what was made,” Capt. Mura said.

The police chief said the new 24/7 Person In Crisis team would not have responded to this type of incident, but added the department is working toward making changes to the PIC team.

“At this point, the emergency communications division, they decide when PIC is to be dispatched,” Chief Herriott-Sullivan said. “We don’t request them, and as far as the FIT team is concerned we’ve done some work with them, but in this case, this incident occurred over several minutes. My understanding is that, as we and they get more experience, and more resources as to what they can respond to, those things are going to change and they will respond to more calls.”

The police chief said even if the mental health teams arrived on scene, they likely would’ve been held back because of the present danger of the situation.

“From what I’ve seen it was too fluid, too dangerous, and we would’ve kept them [FIT and PIC teams] back anyways,” Chief Herriott-Sullivan said.

The police chief said the Open Door staff member who called 911 was not familiar with the man who took the knives, and she expressed condolences to the deceased’s family.

“One thing I always try to remember, regardless of this occurred, is that’s someone’s family member, and I always try to keep them in mind,” Chief Herriott-Sullivan said.

Next steps

The police chief said the department is in the process of conducting an internal and criminal investigation. She said the attorney general’s office and district attorney’s office is reviewing the incident to determine jurisdiction.

“District Attorney Sandra Doorley has requested the body worn camera footage not be shown at this time until she has a chance to review it,” Chief Herriott-Sullivan said. “I’ve already met with some of the local attorney general’s office.”

The police chief said per protocol, the officer involved in this incident has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of the internal and criminal investigations.

The police chief said the department is working to identify the man, and will notify next of kin before making his name public.

Body worn camera footage

WARNING: This video contains graphic content some may find offensive.

City of Rochester officials released redacted body worn camera footage from the fatal shooting Wednesday night.

Mayor Warren said she saw the unredacted version of the footage Wednesday.

“The body worn camera video is heartbreaking,” Mayor Warren said. “Any time you see these types of videos, it’s heartbreaking. It’s hard to look at. I don’t think that over the last four months I’ve probably watched hundreds of body worn camera videos and whenever you see an officer having to do something like this — it is heartbreaking.”

The mayor said the man put police in a difficult situation.

“When you’re in the heat of the moment, and you’re watching the officer have to make a split-second decision … I don’t want anybody to utilize deadly force in this way, we shouldn’t want that to happen, but again, we see from the map, you see the officers retreat,” Mayor Warren said. “When you see the video, you’ll be able to see other things and you’ll be able to draw your own conclusion, but I can just say for me and myself — and probably for anybody that watches this video — your heart will cry out because it’s not going to sit right. But they have to answer the question: Was policy, procedures, and training, was all of that followed?”

Sources who have seen the unredacted video described the footage to News 8 Wednesday:

  • Man was found in an alley around 3:03 a.m.
  • Police told the man to get down and drop the knife.
  • Police are heard saying “Sir you need to drop the knife” and “He’s dangerous.”
  • Five Rochester police officers were at the scene.
  • Officers told the man to drop the knife more than a dozen times.
  • Rochester police kept backing away from the man, as he kept following the officers. This continued for “some time.”
  • The man told officers “just shoot me,” and asked police to fire their weapons.
  • Police continue to back away slowly as man follows them.
  • Officer heard saying “I’m not going to kill you”
  • Officer heard saying “He says he does wish to kill us and is dangerous.”
  • Officers ask for man for his name, continue to call him “sir.”
  • Officers heard pleading with the man to back up and stop approaching them.
  • The man refuses to comply with these requests and charges at police
  • He gets within six feet of the officers, about a average person’s body length.
  • The man gets close and charges at the officers
  • Five shots are fired from an officer’s service weapon.
  • Officers attempt to provide life-saving care as the man struggles to breath outside the Open Door Mission.
  • Police ask the man to “stick with us” as they try to save him.

Reaction

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren held a press conference with the police chief Wednesday afternoon.

“There will never be a time where I’ll be able to stand before this community and be OK with seeing a person being shot and dying on our streets,” Mayor Warren said. “There’ll never be a time when I see an officer putting their hands on a person, pepper spraying a person, restraining a person — where I’ll be able to stand here and say I’m OK seeing that. It’s something that I’d never be OK with and I don’t expect anyone that sees these videos to ever be OK with that.

“A number of questions always come to mind,” Mayor Warren said. “Could this have ended differently? Could a taser or other less lethal force been used? Could the officer have continued retreating? Could something else have been done? Then I realize that hindsight is 20-20. I see these videos and they break my heart because I see my family, my people, I see my child, I see my husband, I see my community, and I can’t begin to understand the choices that have to be made so I’m not going to stand here and ask you the people of the city of Rochester to understand something that I myself don’t understand.”

The mayor said she has full support in the interim police chief in handling this incident, as well as making the necessary changes to police policy to ensure the safety of all in the city.

“I would tell you that the lady standing here as the chief, Chief Cynthia Herriot-Sullivan is someone I trust wholeheartedly,” Mayor Warren said “I trust her team. I trust that when she says were going to do a thorough review, work with the district attorney’s office and attorney general’s office and other governmental partners — she’ll do that.

“That frankly is all that I can ask of her,” Mayor Warren said. “When I asked her to reevaluate how we handle protests, she did that. When I asked her to develop and execute a violence reduction plan, she worked with the team to do that. When I asked her to redevelop policies and procedures, she is working with her team to do that. I know despite how these videos make us all feel, make her [Chief Herriott-Sullivan] feel, I’m asking you to trust her, to trust her team to evaluate, to research, and review and then to come before you, the people of our community and let you know exactly what happened here, how it happened, and what she believes is the next steps to move forward.”

Open Door Mission Executive Director Anna Valeria-Iseman released the following statement on the incident:

“Our hearts are heavy at the Open Door Mission regarding the incident that occurred early this morning involving the death of one of our guests. We are praying for our guest, their loved ones, and the Rochester Police Department officers involved in this incident. As this is an ongoing police investigation, we can have no further comment at this time.”

A statement Wednesday from the Rochester Police Locust Club:

“A sudden loss of life should only be seen for what it ultimately is, a tragedy. We ask the community to recognize the challenging place that our members found themselves in. Despite their best efforts in a very difficult and dangerous encounter, a life was lost. We ask the public to keep all involved in their thoughts and prayers. We also ask that patience and judgment be reserved while the investigation into this incident goes forward.”

A statement Wednesday from Rochester’s Police Accountability Board Chair Shani Wilson on the shooting:

“This morning, the Police Accountability Board learned of media reports that a Rochester Police Department officer shot and killed a man at the Open Door Mission,” said Chair Shani Wilson. “I asked RPD to provide the PAB with all relevant body-worn camera footage of this incident. I also asked RPD to immediately release that footage to the public. I have not received a response to either of my requests.

The PAB cannot comment on what we have not seen. However, this latest incident may raise the same questions our community has been asking for months about officer training, RPD culture, and the Person in Crisis Team. The PAB is searching for answers to these pressing questions through our open investigation into the policies, practices, procedures, and training involved in the Harris Street and Portland Avenue pepper spraying incidents. This latest incident spotlights the need for immediate attention to our repeated, unfulfilled requests for information. The community deserves a full and transparent review of all these incidents.”

Rochester City Councilmember, and mayoral candidate, Malik Evans has requested the full body camera video be made public. He released a statement Wednesday saying:

“This morning the Rochester community woke up to tragic news of a use of force incident in which a member of the Rochester Police Department shot and killed an individual. Initial reports state that the individual had a knife and was threatening to harm himself and the officer. Our community has been on edge for over a year as it relates to policing in Rochester due to numerous incidents involving police interactions with residents. For the sake of transparency, it is important that all body-worn camera footage and any other surveillance camera footage in the area be released to the community without undue delay. The role the mental health unit played in this incident, particularly the Person in Crisis Team, should also be addressed as the information of this tragedy is released to the public. The public deserves a full and honest account of this incident.”

A statement Wednesday from City Council candidate, and Free the People ROC organizer, Stanley Martin:

For decades the Rochester community has called on our city government to implement changes in policing and to invest resources that truly keep people safe, like stable housing and mental health care. These demands, led by the family members of the RPD’s victims, have been largely ignored. Instead of systemic change we sorely need, our community has received meaningless, symbolic reforms, like the hiring of Black police chiefs or implicit bias training. These reforms are designed to justify massive police budgets that come at the expense of our safety and humanity. 

Because our leaders refused to act, today we find ourselves in an incredibly tragic, and painfully familiar situation; the Rochester Police Department has killed again.  

Following the senseless and preventable murder of Daniel Prude, we pleaded with City Council members and Mayor Lovely Warren to defund the police and invest in resources that keep us safe. They refused. We asked for the implementation of Daniel’s law locally to ensure that police officers are not first responders to mental health crises. They refused. We asked for a fully funded, fully staffed Police Accountability Board. They refused. We asked for the expansion of safe, affordable housing. They refused.  We asked for these changes to prevent the RPD from harming our community, yet our city government continued to leave us exposed to these savage violence workers.

In the year since Daniel Prude’s murder, Mayor Lovely Warren and her allies on council have done everything in their power to avoid accountability for themselves and the RPD. The “racial justice” initiatives they proposed; the new cops they appointed; even the Person in Crisis Team, which seems to exist only in word–each of these initiatives was designed to deflect blame, and distract us from the truth we all know: the RPD killed Daniel Prude, and our city government hid it from us for months. 

Their inaction caused the senseless murder of yet another of our most vulnerable citizens last night.  Responsibility for his death falls squarely on the shoulders of Mayor Lovely Warren, Chief Cynthia Herriot-Sullivan, and City Council members who voted for the police budget: Loretta Scott, Willie Lightfoot, Mitch Gruber, Malik Evans, Michael Patterson, Jose Peo, and Lashay Harris. Shame on them all.”

A statement Wednesday from New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman:

“No one experiencing homelessness and mental health crises should have their life taken by police. This individual needed social services and permanent housing, not to be fatally shot. Police are simply not equipped to deescalate, and instead bring further tragedy to the experience of vulnerable residents, not safety and security.

The City of Rochester must immediately reveal all body-worn camera footage and hold officers accountable for taking the very life they were supposed to save.”

Watch the full press briefing

RPD morning briefing

Map

Tweets from the scene

This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.

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