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Rensselaer County DA Recuses Himself From Troy Shooting Investigation

WAMC composite photo by Dave Lucas

The Rensselaer County District Attorney has recused himself from an investigation into a non-fatal police-involved shooting last month in Troy. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports reversal came after the DA resisted calls to recuse his office.

On August 15th, 22-year-old Dahmeek McDonald was struck twice during an encounter with police after a traffic stop.

McDonald, who was wanted for absconding from parole on a drug charge, was unarmed, according to his attorney, Mark Mishler. Police did not find a weapon at the scene. The officers involved, including Jarrod Iler, who fired his weapon, were placed on administrative leave, per department policy.

The investigation into the encounter began under purview of the Troy Police Department and Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove. 

Mishler wrote to Abelove asking him to recuse himself from the case, saying it was “impossible” for the District Attorney or his office to conduct an impartial investigation. He also cited an Executive Order issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo authorizing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to probe Abelove’s handling of a fatal police-involved shooting in April 2016. Abelove brought that case to a grand jury before the Attorney General’s office could become involved.

Under a previous executive order, the New York Attorney General has power to investigate fatal police encounters.

Abelove initially refused to step aside, but on Wednesday he released a statement saying he would request from the court that a Special District Attorney be appointed.

The DA said he had “determined that a conflict of interest exists which necessitates my recusal from this investigation.”

The shooting incident sparked protest from members of McDonald’s family and neighbors the next day.

“He had issues, he was running from parole but that don’t give nobody the right to shoot him. That don’t give anybody the right to shoot him. Now we’re going to City Hall, hopefully the mayor takes notice. If we don’t, we need to shut down his city and let him know that we control this city.”

The large crowd of demonstrators marched from the scene of the shooting to Troy City Hall. Mayor Patrick Madden met with a small group of demonstrators during the protest.

The FBI is also now involved in the investigation.

Mishler welcomed word that Abelove would recuse himself, saying that it validates issues raised in his letter and public pressure.

“What is still up in the air, however, is who will be conducting this investigation. To the best of my knowledge is that no one yet has been appointed. Our position is that the only office that really can be counted on at this point to do a thorough and fair investigation of what we believe to have been a completely unjustified use of deadly force by a police officer would be the New York Attorney General’s office,” said Mishler.

City Councilor Mark McGrath, who represents the neighborhood where McDonald was shot, said he was disappointed in the city administration and the Troy Police Benevolent and Protective Association for not sharing more information from Officer Iler’s version of what happened.

McGrath said he was pleased that the FBI is involved.

“I want a fair investigation, but I found it to be troubling that everyone has taken the side of a convicted criminal who in his last arrest led the state police on a high-speed chase the wrong way on 787, then jumped off a bridge to evade arrest. So I don’t know what makes people think that he was just going to go quietly this time,” said McGrath.

McDonald in 2014 jumped from the Dunn Memorial Bridge in Rensselaer after leading police on a car chase.

The Times Union reported on Friday that the attorney general is seeking a grand jury to investigate Abelove’s handling of a 2016 fatal officer-involved shooting.

Troy Police Captain Dan DeWolf told WAMC after press time that the District Attorney's recusal from the McDonald case would not have an impact on the ongoing investigation.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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