No indictment will come down for a New Rochelle police officer who in May shot to death a 48-year-old city man said to have wielded a knife during a confrontation at his Hickory Street apartment, county officials confirmed Tuesday.
Relaying the findings of a grand jury, a written statement Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore said a grand jury found “no reasonable cause to vote an indictment” in the death of Samuel Cruz.
“In so doing, the grand jury found the police did not act unjustifiably as defined by New York criminal law in causing the tragic death of Samuel Cruz during his encounter with New Rochelle police officers on May 26, 2013,” DiFiore said.
The 23-person grand jury heard testimony from 24 witnesses, including eight civilians, between Nov. 13 and 22, DiFiore said. Those who testified also included mental health professionals—Cruz’s social worker and psychiatrist, for example—and police.
“Police personnel who testified included the five police officers who initially responded to Mr. Cruz’s apartment,” DiFiore said. “The police officer who called the Westchester County Prevention and Response Team at St. Vincent’s Hospital testified as did the two officers who discharged their Taser guns. Additionally, the police officer who attempted to find an alternative means of entry by use of a pole camera also testified. The police officer who fired the fatal shot also testified. That police officer testified without the protection of immunity from prosecution. In addition, the police officer in charge of New Rochelle police training in the use of physical force testified.”
According to a report issued
by the City of New Rochelle one day after the shooting, a unit responded to 18
Hickory St. Apt 3H at about 1:30 p.m. on May 26 to investigate the
report of an emotionally disturbed person at that location.
“A relative reported that the subject, Samuel Cruz, was off his medication, acting irrationally, and refusing to answer the door to the relative, who had come to check on his welfare,” the city’s initial statement said. “Responding officers were able to establish oral communication with Mr. Cruz through his locked apartment door, but were unable to get him to open the door.”
After trying repeatedly to speak with Cruz and get him to open the door, officers “ultimately concluded that Mr. Cruz was behaving irrationally, in distress, and a potential danger to himself and others in the building,” the statement said. “Officers forced open the door, and observed Mr. Cruz armed with a hooked bladed knife.”
“As officers entered the apartment, Mr. Cruz threatened them with the knife. Officers deployed tasers at Mr. Cruz twice but neither deployment was successful in immobilizing him. Mr. Cruz then came at the officers with the knife and one of the officers discharged his firearm at Mr. Cruz striking him once in the chest.”
He was pronounced dead at Sound Shore Medical Center. At the time, the officer involved was placed on “modified duty,” the city said.
The incident galvanized some legislators who called for an investigation to determine, among other things, whether proper mental health treatment had been available to Cruz.
The statement from DiFiore does not address that question but instead revolves around the incident itself.
Here it is in full:
Statement by Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore regarding an officer involved [in the] shooting in the city of New Rochelle on May 26, 2013
The investigation into the tragic death of Samuel Cruz by a New Rochelle police officer during the afternoon of May 26, 2013 commenced immediately. The shooting occurred at the threshold of Mr. Cruz’s apartment at 18 Hickory Street, New Rochelle, New York.
The extensive investigation included interviews of family members, civilians, mental health professionals, police officers, and expert witnesses. Civilian witnesses who were present for a substantial portion of the events immediately preceding Samuel Cruz’s death were interviewed. Evidence was collected from the scene and forensically analyzed by experts in ballistics, toxicology, DNA, and gun shot residue. The investigation was conducted by a number of different law enforcement agencies that included members of the New Rochelle Police Department, the Westchester County Department of Public Safety’s Forensic Identification Unit, the Westchester County Medical Examiner’s Office, and the Westchester County Department of Laboratories and Research.
Upon the people’s motion for a public disclosure of grand jury evidence, the Court has authorized the release of the following:
After an exhaustive review of the evidence, the grand jury, which began hearing testimony on November, 13, 2013 concluded its work on November 22, 2013.
Under New York law, the grand jury’s proceedings are secret and only upon a showing of “a compelling and particularized need for access” can disclosure of grand jury information be made in a public forum.
In this case, as previously done in similar cases, for the same reasons, the District Attorney moved for an order of the court that empanelled the grand jury sitting in this matter to allow for the public release of specific information in connection with this grand jury investigation. Upon the People’s demonstration of a compelling and particularized need the court has permitted the information contained in this statement (and only this information) to be publicly disclosed.
In connection with the grand jury proceedings:
- The evidence included the 911 audio recording.
- The grand jury heard testimony from 24 witnesses. Of the 24 witnesses, eight were civilians. They testified as to their contacts with Mr. Cruz and the police both on May 26, 2013 and three days prior, May 23, 2013.
- Police personnel who testified included the five police officers who initially responded to Mr. Cruz’s apartment. The police officer who called the Westchester County Prevention and Response Team at St. Vincent’s Hospital testified as did the two officers who discharged their Taser guns. Additionally, the police officer who attempted to find an alternative means of entry by use of a pole camera also testified. The police officer who fired the fatal shot also testified. That police officer testified without the protection of immunity from prosecution. In addition, the police officer in charge of New Rochelle police training in the use of physical force testified.
- Mental health professionals, including Mr. Cruz’s social worker and psychiatrist, testified as did a case worker who oversaw Mr. Cruz’s daily needs and living arrangements.
- More than 49 exhibits were admitted into evidence before the grand jury. Included among the exhibits were 42 photographs, a crime scene sketch, two computer generated models of the hallway outside the Cruz’s apartment and the front doorway and the immediate interior of Cruz’s apartment, a video recording of the crime scene, and the autopsy photograph and diagram. There was testimony from the crime scene detective in connection with the collection and introduction of physical evidence.
- Expert testimony was elicited from a ballistics expert and a toxicology expert. There was also testimony from the Westchester County Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy on the deceased.
- The grand jury heard all the evidence on the use of physical force and deadly physical force by the police in this encounter. The grand jury also heard the evidence of the threatened use of deadly physical force by Mr. Cruz during the encounter. As required by law, the grand jury was instructed on the defense of justification under article 35 of the Penal Law as to the use of force and deadly physical force by the police. After due deliberation on the evidence presented in this matter the grand jury found that there was no reasonable cause to vote an indictment. In so doing, the grand jury found the police did not act unjustifiably as defined by New York criminal law in causing the tragic death of Samuel Cruz during his encounter with New Rochelle police officers on May 26, 2013.
We would like to thank the 23 citizens of Westchester County who comprised the grand jury in this matter for their service, for the time and effort they devoted to this investigation, and for the careful manner in which they discharged their solemn duty.