ROCHESTER — Neighbors and community activists spoke out last month against the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old man by Rochester Police officers.
According to Police Chief James Sheppard, Israel "Izzy" Andino called police the morning of June 21 saying he had a gun and was going to "go out and kill people." When police responded, Andino, who suffered from bipolar disorder, was walking around the area of Locust Street and Dewey Avenue carrying a shotgun, Sheppard added during a July 3 interview at the Public Safety building. Police learned after the incident that the gun was loaded with deer slugs, he said.
Officers shot Andino after he aimed the gun at them and fired in front of 103 Locust St., Sheppard said.
But several neighbors who saw the incident said that they believe officers had ample opportunities to overtake Andino before shooting him. Many of these neighbors participated in a June 25 rally to call for justice for the Andino family.
"We feel this young man was murdered," Jimmy Soto said as he pointed to the many bullet holes on the front of the house and dotting the tree out front. Soto, who lives at 103 Locust St., said that a bullet even made its way into his granddaughter’s toy box inside the home.
"This is really wrong," Soto added. "This young man did not deserve to die."
Sheppard said the incident is part of a pattern of violence law enforcement is working to stop, but that police need neighbors to help them. The city has experienced about 100 shootings and more than 20 killings in the first half of the year, he added.
"There is no outcry," Sheppard said. "There is no rally for that."
But Father Laurence Tracy, who took part in the rally protesting Andino’s death, said that the real solution to the current wave of violence lies in creating systemic changes, such as providing more jobs and more educational opportunities for the city’s residents.
"The solution to violence is not more policing," he said. "What the chief is doing, that’s his job. But the public needs to be aware that we are not going to solve violence just by arresting people."
Father Tracy said that the police chief also has pre-empted a grand jury determination on the Andino shooting by justifying the officers’ actions.
"He has no right to be absolving police officers before the case is reviewed thoroughly," the priest remarked.
Internal and criminal investigations of the shooting are moving forward, Sheppard said, acknowledging that it is the grand jury’s job to determine whether the shooting was justified.
"But I said (the shooting) was consistent with our training," the chief added. "And I want to stress this, too, because very rarely do we have this scenario in which someone shoots at us. I don’t believe there’s any other outcome. There’s a lot of desire (though) for better outcomes."
Sheppard said that the officers did attempt to use a Taser electroshock weapon in an effort to disarm Andino, but the attempt did not succeed. Sheppard — who noted that Tasers are not 100-percent effective — said that he couldn’t say if the Taser had malfunctioned or whether Andino simply did not react to the electroshock. And while neighbors and officers reported that Andino was crouched down at one point during the 20-minute incident, the chief said that there was no way for an officer to approach him at that point without making himself vulnerable.
"A person with a gun is a person with a gun," Sheppard remarked. "And the first thing is you need to take cover. You’re not going to expose yourself to danger. So my expectation of every police officer in the RPD is under those circumstances, you stand behind a tree, get behind a car, get behind something. … I wouldn’t expect someone to walk up on him, or run up on him or try and tackle him under those circumstances. Because once you’re no longer in cover, you no longer have cover."
Nevertheless, Soto said that police should have found another way to address the situation. He said neighbors like himself continually witnessed the suffering Andino endured because of his mental disorder, and added that Andino often could be found sitting on his nearby Locust Street porch, looking to his neighbors for attention and caring.
"He only wanted love from all of us," Soto explained while on the verge of tears.
Nemensio Martínez, a member of the choir at St. Michael Church, said he begged officers to let him talk to Andino. But the officers said that they could not put him in danger, he said.
"I told them that he’s not going to shoot," Martínez said. "They did not let me get close to the kid. … Police are supposed to save lives, not hurt the community."
Soto speculated that Andino may have called police to provoke a confrontation because he could not find his place in this world and wanted to die and be with his father, who had been killed years ago. But that doesn’t mean officers should have cooperated with his wish, he added.
"He died by … firing squad," he shouted. "It’s not fair to him. It’s not fair to all of us. … He should be in jail, not in the morgue."
But, Sheppard said, once Andino fired at the officers, each of them simply responded accordingly. When being fired upon, officers do not have time to consult with each other to determine who is going to shoot back, he added.
"We’re trained to address the threat," the chief noted. "And so when he fires, I’m dealing with that problem. … And their response was what it was."
Sheppard said that the RPD does have specially trained officers who serve in an Emotionally Disturbed Person Response team to deal with people with mental disorders. But those officers were not present at the scene, he said, adding that the team is most effective in such situations as a person threatening to jump off a bridge or in a domestic crisis not involving weapons.
"Again, and I want to stress this, when you put the weapon in play, it’s still a man with a gun," Sheppard said. "So our response, even though we may try and talk and try and be calming and prevent it from escalating, it doesn’t change the (facts)."
Nor will the memories of violence change for members of the Locust Avenue community who witnessed the shooting of Andino, Soto said. Other neighbors said they plan to conduct monthly vigils, and Soto said that he hopes to have a mural of Andino painted on a garage at the corner of Locust and Dewey Avenue.
"Police officers should admit the truth," Soto remarked. "Plenty of people in the neighborhood saw everything. … We just want justice to be served."