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Capital Region News

Troopers: Rotterdam Fatal Shooting Was Justified

Rotterdam Police today gave an update on their investigation into a fatal police shooting over the weekend.
WAMC photo by Helen Rose Schneider
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Rotterdam Police today gave an update on their investigation into a fatal police shooting over the weekend.

Rotterdam Police today gave an update on their investigation into a fatal police shooting over the weekend.

Police briefed reporters, saying they had been called to 1061 Roberta Road Sunday morning by a woman who told them a man was brandishing a knife and breaking things.

The situation was intense: an emotionally distraught person in possession of a dangerous weapon, refusing to talk with police, eventually threatening them.

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State Police Major William Keeler: "Our investigation revealed that three police officers responded to a call for an emotionally disturbed person. One was a Rotterdam patrolman. The second was a sergeant on the Rotterdam P.D. and the third was a deputy sheriff from the Schenectady County Sheriff's office. The call came in from the subject's mother. She advised that the subject, 30-year-old William J. Clark III, was armed with a knife and he was breaking things in the residence." 

Clark was known to police. He had a documented mental health history and numerous encounters with the law. His mother, who remained in the house but was not in the room where the shooting took place, told police Clark may had been off his medication. That has not been confirmed. Rotterdam Police Chief James Hamilton says she had moved into the house on April 1st.  Clark joined her later.

Rotterdam Police Chief James Hamilton
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Rotterdam Police Chief James Hamilton.

Keeler says the three responding lawmen entered the house together and spent up to 10 minutes searching for Clark. Two Rotterdam officers eventually found him hiding behind a door. As they tried to talk with Clark, he is said to have lunged at police with a kitchen knife, stabbing one in the back of the head. A stab at the other was deflected by the sergeant's bullet-proof vest. Keeler says the sergeant then tried using a Taser on Clark, but it failed to fully penetrate Clark's sweater. That’s when one of the officers fired four rounds from a service revolver: "The patrolman discharged his firearm four times at the suspect, striking him twice in the chest. Once in the head. One missed that went into a wall in the closet. All four rounds were recovered during investigation."

The names of the three officers involved are not being released.  Two separate but simultaneous investigations were conducted prior to police meeting press: one internally and one by the State Police. Hamilton told reporters domestic disturbance calls are always regarded as perilous. "You often don't know what you're walking into. It's a very dangerous job. Thank God these officers went home to their families. It could've ended much more tragically. Obviously, when someone dies, it wasn't the desired outcome."

Keeler noted that Clark's family has cooperated with police, who he says have not yet considered releasing the audio recording of the shooting. "We've shared the results of our investigation with D.A. [Robert] Carney and with the chief, and based on the interviews of everyone at the scene, audio which was captured on the officer's body cameras and physical evidence at the scene, although the investigation is not 100 percent wrapped up, it's 99.9 percent wrapped up, and it's our determination that the shooting was, in fact, justified."

The Washington Post, which has been tracking fatal shootings by police, found most victims died at the hands of police officers who had not been trained to deal with the mentally ill. The Post also found that in most of those cases, as with the Clark incident, police had been summoned by a relative or a neighbor who was worried about a mentally fragile person’s erratic behavior.

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