NEW YORK (NEWS10) – On Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI) released its report on the death of Michael Wallace. After a “thorough and exhaustive investigation,” including evidence from body-worn cameras, 911 recordings, medical records, and many hours of police and civilian witness interviews, OSI determined that there was justification for the use of force from Schenectady Police Department (SPD) “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
On March 24, 2020, two separate incidents occurred involving Wallace and SPD. The first incident was a 911 call placed by Wallace at 5:20 a.m. In his call, Wallace was “somewhat incoherent,” but it was clear he was experiencing a mental health issue. Officers were then sent to meet Wallace. When they arrived at his apartment, he continued to show signs of a mental health issue. His fiancé was with him at the time, and after Wallace assured that he and his fiancé were okay, the officers left.
Three hours later, a security guard at Wallace’s apartment called 911 and reported that Wallace had pulled a gun on an employee of the building. When SPD officers returned, James’ office says they kicked the door to Wallace’s apartment and announced their presence. The door “abruptly swung open,” and Wallace “appeared to be holding a pistol that was aimed at them.” The report continues saying SPD officers then opened fire. Wallace was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. It was later discovered that Wallace was pointing a CO1 pellet pistol at the officers.
In this case, James says the critical factor was whether or not the officers reasonably believed that deadly physical force was necessary to defend themselves, or another individual, from what they reasonably believed to be the use of unlawful deadly physical force by another person. Because it was reasonable for the officers to believe that deadly physical force was necessary to defend themselves in that situation, OSI determined that criminal charges could not be held against any officer in this case.
Despite the results of the case, OSI stresses the importance of communities to develop programs that send mental health professionals, not police officers, to mental health-related calls for assistance. For example, the first time Wallace called 911. The OSI now strongly recommends that SPD and its community partners work toward developing this type of response program for Schenectady.
“This incident highlights the tragic reality that too many of our communities are ill-equipped to handle emergency mental health crises that demand a response from mental health professionals, not police,” said Attorney General James. “Mr. Wallace was clearly experiencing mental health concerns, and it’s a great tragedy that it resulted in a dangerous and ultimately fatal situation. It’s critical that the city of Schenectady and municipalities across the state develop systems that divert mental health calls away from a law enforcement response, and instead, are directed to mental health professionals who are trained to support individuals in these crises. I express my condolences to Michael Wallace’s family, friends, and loved ones, and I will continue to advocate for the change that is desperately needed.”