Elmira police cleared in 2021 shooting death: What video shows, what it doesn't show (2024)

For the third time in the past two weeks, an investigation by the state Attorney General's Office has cleared law enforcement officers of criminal wrongdoing in a shooting death.

As in the two other cases, there was a lack of detailed video evidence of the shooting.

A report issued Thursday by New York State Attorney General Letitia James' Office of Special Investigations determined there was no evidence to prove several law enforcement officers involved in the August 2021 shooting death of a parole absconder in Elmira acted improperly.

Read the report at the bottom of this story

Officers involved in the encounter initially believed the suspect, David G. Wandell, 53, of Elmira, was armed with a handgun, but it turned out he was carrying a pellet gun, according to the report.

Wandell was the subject of an officer safety alert sent Aug. 21, 2021, to members of all law enforcement agencies in Chemung County.

Elmira police cleared in 2021 shooting death: What video shows, what it doesn't show (1)

Less than a week later, he was dead after a confrontation with law enforcement, prompting the state investigation.

Investigators had body camera footage from before and after the fatal shooting, but nothing from the fatal confrontation itself.

Lack of body camera video was also cited when the Office of Special Investigations looked into the September 2021 death of Dedrick James, and the June 2021 death of Timothy Flowers, both in Rochester.

“In order to ensure continued transparency, it’s imperative that every law enforcement agency in New York is equipped with body-worn cameras," James said when the report was released on the Flowers shooting.

How law enforcement agencies handle body camera policies

While James urges all law enforcement entities to equip their officers with body cameras, that isn't always the case.

Policies can vary from agency to agency, and funding and technical issues sometimes present obstacles, law enforcement officials say.

Five armed officers — a state trooper, an Elmira Police Department investigator, a sergeant and deputy from the Chemung County Sheriff's Office, and a parole officer from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision — fired guns at Wandell on Aug. 27, 2021, when he pointed what appeared to be a handgun in their direction, according to the AG's report.

The report into Wandell's death mentioned that only one of the five, sheriff's deputy Zachary Hugg, was wearing a body camera, and Hugg said he forgot to turn his camera on until after the shots were fired.

As a result, there was no video evidence of Wandell's shooting itself, but there was video of other aspects of the incident. Investigators pieced those clips together into a single video that showed events as they unfolded.

COMPILATION VIDEO: Watch the full video released by the Attorney General's office [warning, contains strong language and violent content

AFTERMATH VIDEO: Watch the video released by the Attorney General's office that shows the shooting aftermath [warning, contains strong language]

"Anyone equipped with that type of camera is required to activate them in any interaction with the public," Chemung County Sheriff Bill Schrom said."I believe that because this was such a dynamic incident, the deputy was too focused on the perceived threat that he simply forgot."

All road patrol and corrections division officers are equipped with body cameras, he added, but the equipment is aging and many of the units don't function properly.

"We have been in the process of acquiring new ones for almost a year now, which has been a struggle with the vendor we are dealing with," Schrom said.

All Elmira Police Department patrol officers wear body cameras, but detectives, such as the one who fired at Wandell, do not, according to Police Chief Anthony Alvernaz.

"It's simply a cost issue and the fact that they rarely deal with in-progress situations," Alvernaz said. "They do record their in-house interviews via cameras in our offices."

State police started issuing body cameras, 3,000 in all, and associated training to troopers in April 2021, and they were rolled out one troop at a time, according to state police Director of Public Information Beau Duffy.

At the time of Wandell's death, that rollout had not yet included Troop E, which covers Chemung County, Duffy said.

"Troop E’s rollout started in January of 2022 and was completed in February of 2022," he said. "At the time of the August 2021 incident in Elmira, the cameras were not yet deployed in Troop E."

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has already invested millions of dollars into body cameras and other safety measures within correctional facilities, the department said in a statement.

"As the department continues to update that program, we are always looking to expand our efforts as well as explore potential use for the outside community," the statement said.

What happened in the shooting of David Wandell

The Aug. 21 alert advised officers Wandell was wanted for a parole violation and to use caution if they encountered him because of his documented history of violence.

The alert also indicated Wandell was back in Chemung County after absconding to North Carolina, where Wandell claimed to have killed a man.

On Aug. 27, a New York State Police investigator spotted Wandell walking in the Eldridge Park area of Elmira and radioed for assistance, according to the attorney general's investigation.

Elmira police officer Amari Hadlock, who heard the request for help, passed Wandell and got out of her cruiser, intending to take him into custody, the report stated.

At that point, Wandell pointed what appeared to be a gun at Hadlock and she responded by firing several shots at him before stumbling backward as Wandell fled the area.

Other officers heard gunfire and saw Hadlock fall, and assumed she had been shot, according to the report. The dispatcher then transmitted a call to all county units for assistance because of “shots fired at officers.”

Representatives from multiple agencies converged on Woodlawn Cemetery, where Wandell had been spotted, and ordered him to drop his weapon and show his hands.

Instead, Wandell took cover behind a tree and raised his weapon toward the officers, the report stated.

The five officers who opened fire in response were Deputy Hugg and Sgt. Charles Kennedy from the Chemung County Sheriff's Office, Elmira Police Department investigator William Goodwin, state Trooper Matthew Shutter, and state parole officer Shawn Reynolds.

A medical examiner’s analysis found Wandell was struck five times, and two of the shots were fatal. The recovered bullet fragments couldn't be matched with specific officers’ guns.

Elmira police cleared in 2021 shooting death: What video shows, what it doesn't show (2)

After the shooting, officers found a pellet pistol on the ground next to Wandell’s body, which investigators identified as a Crosman Air Mag C11. The requisite orange paint on the tip that would have distinguished it from a normal firearm had been removed, according to the report.

The report concluded the officers who fired at Wandell saw him raise what appeared to be a firearm at them, had heard over the radio that he had fired at an officer in Eldridge Park minutes earlier, and had been warned days before that he had a history of violence.

“After an extensive review of the facts of this case, OSI determined that a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that these officers’ actions were justified," James said in a news release.

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This article originally appeared on Elmira Star-Gazette: NY AG investigation clears police in 2021 Elmira shooting death

Elmira police cleared in 2021 shooting death: What video shows, what it doesn't show (2024)
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