A Troy police sergeant will not face prosecution for the April 2016 fatal shooting of a DWI suspect, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday in a detailed report that contradicts the officer’s version of events and criticizes the investigation conducted by the city police department.
The report chronicling Schneiderman’s year-long investigation into the shooting death of Edson Thevenin, 37, highlighted the controversial decision by Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel E. Abelove to secretly grant immunity to Sgt. Randall French when the officer testified before a grand jury that cleared him of wrongdoing.
The report concluded that because of the immunity agreement, “criminal prosecution of Sgt. French for the shooting would be impossible” under state law regardless of the attorney general’s findings.
In addition, poor evidence gathering and other factors prevented the attorney general’s office from being able to “disprove that Sgt. French’s use of deadly force was unjustified,” the report said.
The attorney general’s findings raised questions about why Troy police almost immediately accepted French’s contention that he shot Thevenin eight times in self-defense as he was pinned against his police cruiser by Thevenin’s sedan — even though forensic evidence appeared to contradict it.
The report said city police told two civilian witnesses immediately after the fatal shots to “get the f— out of here” without interviewing them and never followed up with a third civilian witness who wanted to change his statement. The report also stated the department “seems to have completely overlooked, or at least greatly minimized” that a fourth witness — Troy police Capt. Matthew Montanino — could have been killed by French’s gunfire.
The report said Troy police should have avoided “prejudging” and quickly announcing the results of their investigation, calling the department’s probe “deficient and incomplete in several respects.” The department failed to evaluate evidence it possessed, did not arrange for a comprehensive reconstruction of the incident, and never had ballistics tests done on the weapons carried by French and Montanino, who was not reported to have fired any shots, the report said. The department also showed “disregard for the Thevenin family” by initially telling them he died in a car accident.
“After learning from a TPD officer at the hospital that Mr. Thevenin had been shot, the family went — in a futile search for additional information — from the hospital to the incident scene to the police department to the morgue,” the report said. “The family was provided with no TPD victim services information or even a TPD contact person. The family ultimately heard the TPD’s account from the TPD press conference the day after the shooting, a press conference that Mr. Thevenin’s mother tried to attend but to which she was denied access.”
The family has filed a federal suit against the city.
The attorney general’s office also examined Abelove’s conduct in a separate grand jury convened by Schneiderman. It scrutinized the investigation of Thevenin’s death and obtained a grand jury indictment of Abelove on charges of felony perjury and two misdemeanor counts of official misconduct. The indictment accuses the district attorney of withholding evidence from the initial grand jury that investigated the shooting.
Schneiderman’s report clearly rankled Mayor Patrick Madden, who said in a statement: “The city of Troy continues to be unfairly involved in the jurisdictional dispute between the New York state attorney general’s office and the Rensselaer County district attorney.”
Madden said he fundamentally disagreed with its findings and that the report was flawed.