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Activists Slam Albany County DA Over Handling Of Ellazar Williams Shooting

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Albany County District Attorney David Soares says his office will not prosecute a city man who was partially paralyzed when he was shot by an Albany police detective in August. But city activists aren’t celebrating.

News that Soares, a Democrat, decided he will not prosecute menacing and weapons charges against 19-year-old police shooting victim Ellazar Williams took the community by surprise. Alice Green is Executive Director at the Center for Law and Justice.   "When announcing his decision not to prosecute, District Attorney David Soares, I think, showed the utmost disrespect and contempt for Ellazar Williams, his family and the community."


Green says Williams has been awaiting justice for five months after he was shot August 20th by now-retired Albany Police Detective James Olsen, ending up paralyzed from the chest down.

Soares said in a statement it is his job “to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into charged crimes separate from an initial police investigation. This matter was fully and thoroughly investigated by my staff, with the ultimate conclusion that while there may be a credible case to be made, there is nothing to be gained. Punishment of Mr. Williams is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Green counters  "We certainly cannot accept Mr. Soares’ contention that a thorough and independent investigation was carried out and that a credible case could possibly be made against Ellazar Williams."

Advocates for Williams, who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, contend surveillance video showed Williams was shot in the back, not while running toward Olsen, as police said.  Olsen was cleared by an internal investigation and a grand jury decision.

As Green thanked fellow-activists and community members she issued a stern warning:   "The Albany Police Department must be held accountable."

Albany Police responded to a request for comment via email: 

“While we are disappointed to learn of the district attorney’s decision not to prosecute the case involving Mr. Williams, we respect his decision and the judicial process,” said Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins. “The men and women of the Albany Police Department remain committed to building meaningful relationships with the members of the Albany community and will continue to work together to resolve issues while enhancing safety and security.”

Green demands more information and more transparency, insisting police officials assemble a written investigation report in lieu of a previously provided oral report that justified the Williams shooting by claiming he was running toward Detective Olsen with a knife.   "Unfortunately the handling of the shooting of Mr. Williams has weakened the relationship between the community and its district attorney and the Albany Police Department."

Jamaica Miles is Lead Organizer with Citizen Action of New York.   "D.A.'s are making decisions every single day across this country, locally as well as everyplace else, and they have opportunities to have indictments go through every single day. We see that without an issue they're able to indict individuals and get them to go to trial. But when a police officer is involved, for some reason, D.A.'s are not getting those indictments. They make choices about what they present to grand juries, they have that latitude and longitude to decide what they show and what they don't show. They also decide when they will and won't give discoveries to defendants when they are prosecuting them. We are looking at policies and laws that allow D.A.'s to railroad individuals and decide who is guilty and innocent far before they get to trial, and this is just another case where that has happened."

Liston Cyrus is the newly-elected president of the NAACP Albany Chapter:   "This is not the end of this. What we're looking to do is use this to build a protocol to address things like this in the future."

Cyrus offered a veiled warning to Soares:   "No longer is elected leaders and politicians are going to be able to do these things and when its election time tell us a story. We are keeping track of their actions, their statements and their deliverables. And during political season it's going to be a two-way conversation. You're gonna tell us what you did and we're gonna tell us what we recorded that you did during that time period, and it may not be pretty. So if you're planning for running for political office be careful of what trail you leave because we are watching, we are tracking and we're keeping track of it."

Green says Williams will be her special guest during the Center's Black History Month Film series in February where they will discuss the movie “Black Panther.”   "He watches it every day, just about and he identifies with that. He's also hopeful that one day he will walk, and I think he gets that message out of the film. So he and I will work together on discussing that film and the impact on our community."

Legal Paper Filed 01/08/19. on Scribd

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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