Rochester City Council members have offered mixed responses to a shooting incident, September 25th, involving a suspect engaged in a struggle with a Rochester police officer.
In a pre-viewing statement issued prior to watching the body camera footage of the police-involved shooting on Monday, Council members Mary Lupien, Stanley Martin, and Kim Smith criticized the police and advocated for the use of non-lethal weapons. They asserted, "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, after reviewing the body camera video, which was released by the Rochester Police Department on Thursday, it was observed that the involved police officer was carrying a taser and not a firearm during the incident.
In a statement released on Friday afternoon, five other members of the council denounced the earlier statement by Lupien, Martin, and Smith as "blatantly irresponsible." Council members Miguel Melendez, Willie Lightfoot, LaShay Harris, Mitch Gruber, and Michael Patterson stated, "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."
Council member Jose Peo was not included in the statement and did not release a statement of his own.
Later on Friday afternoon, Lupien, Smith, and Martin issued a letter addressed to Rochester residents, emphasizing the need for accountability and understanding in the wake of such incidents. The letter stated, "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."
The incident began with gunshots on Monday night when the suspected shooter attempted to flee from the police. The body camera footage showed the officer holding a taser as he pursued the suspect. Six seconds after the officer and suspect engaged in a physical altercation, the taser was deployed.
"The body-worn camera footage demonstrates that in this case, the RPD did exactly what this Council and our constituents have asked of them," stated the majority of council members. "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, the suspect can be heard urging the officer to shoot him, followed by gunshots.
Suspect: "Shoot me (inaudible)." Officer: "Let go!" Suspect: "Shoot me! (bang bang) Shoot me!" Officer: "Stop!" Suspect: "Shoot me! (bang)"
Two additional shots were fired, ultimately striking the suspect in the jaw. He is currently being treated at Strong Memorial Hospital.
Council President Miguel Melendez expressed his disappointment, stating, "I felt personally that it was very irresponsible to release that statement, particularly without viewing the body camera footage." He added, "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, ten police chiefs, including RPD Chief David Smith and Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter, jointly signed a letter critical of the council members. They asserted that basic facts were missing in the council members' statement and accused them of supporting and enabling lawlessness with their "reckless, extreme behavior over time." They called for the outright rejection of such behavior.