A Utica police officer has been cleared in Federal Court of any wrongdoing in a fatal shooting incident at Addison Miller Park in July 2013.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York ruled on April 19 that Officer Anthony Ellis is entitled to qualified immunity in the death of Jessie L. Rose, and the lawsuit brought against Ellis and the City of Utica by Rose’s family was dismissed in a summary judgment.
Authorities said on July 14, 2013, at around noon, Rose was spotted firing several rounds from a sawed-off shotgun at the York Street park. Several witnesses called 9-1-1 and Officer Ellis was dispatched to the shots fired call.
Upon arrival at the park, witnesses told police that Ellis entered the park with his weapon drawn, spotted Rose and ordered Rose to drop his weapon.
Ellis and the city claim that Rose turned towards the officer and the shotgun went off, hitting Rose in the abdomen, and that’s when Ellis fired two shots, one of which hit Rose in his hand.
Rose’s attorney claims that Rose was in the process of removing the weapon when Ellis fired first. The attorney argues that the shot that hit Rose in the hand caused an involuntary reflex in the hand, which caused the shotgun to go off, hitting Rose in the abdomen.
Rose died a short time later at a local hospital. An autopsy concluded that Rose died from the shotgun blast to the abdomen.
Rose’s family filed a lawsuit claiming Ellis used excessive, unconstitutional deadly force, and claiming the Utica Police Department failed to adequately train its officers in the use of deadly force and how to interact with the mentally ill.
Following a 5-year court battle, Judge Brenda K. Sannes issued a 26-page decision on April 19. She ruled that, based on the facts known to Ellis at the time of the shooting, he was not in violation of Rose’s Constitutional rights.
“In this case, defendant Ellis had to make a split-second decision regarding an active shooter holding a shotgun, and plaintiffs have failed to identify any authority clearly establishing that his decision to shoot violates the Fourth Amendment,” Sannes wrote.
The judge wrote that only the facts known to Ellis at the time were relevant to her decision based on the law, meaning Rose’s mental state and intentions were not relevant.
“Even if Jessie had not racked the gun while sitting on the slide, kept the shotgun pointed toward himself when he faced Defendant Ellis, and shot himself as a result of Defendant Ellis’ bullet triggering a sympathetic nerve response, Defendant Ellis would still be entitled to qualified immunity. As discussed, there is no clearly established law putting a reasonable police officer on notice about the lawful use of deadly force in a situation such as this, where an armed individual who had been shooting in a public park was holding onto a shotgun when he faced the officer that shot him.”
The plaintiffs were represented by Woodruff Lee Carroll, of Carroll & Carroll Lawyers, a Syracuse-based firm.
Officer Ellis and the City of Utica were represented by First Assistant Corporation Counsel Zachary C. Oren.