Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

Want to know more about Bob Lonsberry? Get their official bio, social pages & articles on 570 WSYR!Full Bio



Bright flashing police lights

Photo: Douglas Sacha / Moment / Getty Images

        Video of the deputy-involved shooting deaths of two Syracuse teens last week doesn’t seem to corroborate the description of the event offered by Onondaga County Sheriff Toby Shelley hours after the event.

The incident took place on the first day of school as officers were tracking suspects in two smash-and-grab burglaries tied to two vehicles stolen the night before. As described by the sheriff, a deputy rolled up on the two stolen vehicles, at which point one fled and the other drove at the by-then dismounted deputy, leaving him no route of escape and forcing him to use deadly force – the discharge of his service weapon – to save his life.

The video, released this midday by the state attorney general, does not seem to show the officer being trapped with no means of escape, as the sheriff described, and it seems to show his third and final shot being fired when the car has partially passed him and he is clearly in no jeopardy.

Compounding concern for many is that the deputy did not turn on his body-worn camera, though he had several minutes enroute to do so, and the dashboard camera on his police cruiser -- which pointed directly at the fleeing stolen vehicle – was turned off. The video released today was retrieved from a privately owned system across the street.

And while its images are not particularly clear, and it is hard for the untrained eye – like mine – to make out what is happening, the video does not unequivocally support the sheriff’s assertion that the deputy’s use of deadly force was justified. In fact, the video seems to show that the deputy had the opportunity and the room to escape the car, and he easily did so.

Yes, the quarters were close, but the deputy seems clearly to be free to laterally move away from his patrol vehicle and out of the path of the fleeing vehicle. And to the extent the vehicle may have been coming in his direction, briefly, it seems inadvertent and not purposeful. They are trying to flee, not run him down.

Further, and most troublingly, the round or rounds that seem to be visibly fired within view of the camera are when the deputy is beside the car, not in front of it. It is clear that he fires at least once into a vehicle that poses no threat to him whatsoever.

It looks like punishing fire, not defensive fire.

What’s worse, the third round is believed to have killed one of the victims. That won’t be confirmed until the autopsy is complete. But if an unlawful discharge led to death, that would be a homicide. Consequently, it is quite possible, and perhaps quite appropriate, that the attorney general may ultimately seek a homicide indictment against this deputy.

This has been a sad week for Syracuse, and a tough journey. The sheriff – just months in office – held a quick press conference, which was good, but may have misrepresented the matter, which is not good. Perhaps it was inexperience or misstated support for his deputy, but he didn’t get it right.

The community was calm and trusting, admirably so. When a white cop shoots and kills a 15-year-old black boy and a 17-year-old black boy, and those boys are unarmed, and the reaction is patience and calm, that speaks very highly of that community.

Even as reports came out about the body camera and the dash camera, there was patience and peace.

And now this. It could reasonably look to some that the trust and patience were misguided.

And so it’s time to do this right.

The deputy needs to be at least temporarily removed from duty. The public needs to be told where the bullets entered the vehicle, where the boys were sitting, where they were hit, and where the sheriff’s department says the deputy was standing when he fired his gun. 

The attorney general’s office did well to release this footage, and hopefully its investigation can move at a prudent but quick pace. And if there is to be a grand jury convened, then let it convene.

And the sheriff should explain how he came to be confused on this matter.

And I should acknowledge that my own full-throated support of the deputy and the sheriff’s account of what happened were built upon an unquestioning trust of the sheriff and his profession, and that while that usually works out fine, in this case it may not have.

I leapt to the defense of the deputy, when probably I should have given more thought to the boys.

               It’s possible at least one of these young men was the victim of a homicide, and nobody would have known, if it wasn’t for the video.

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content