New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI) today released its report on the death of Mark Gaskill of Rochester. After conducting an exhaustive investigation, OSI concluded that the actions that led to Mr. Gaskill’s death did not rise to the level of criminal conduct by officers from the Rochester Police Department (RPD). OSI’s review of the incident included footage from multiple police body-worn cameras, street surveillance videos, interviews with relevant witnesses, ballistics testing, and other forms of evidence.
In the early morning hours of May 14, 2021, members of RPD were summoned to a neighborhood in the City of Rochester following alerts of gunshot activity from ShotSpotter, an automated gunshot detection technology. Using street surveillance video, RPD was able to view and track a car leaving the scene of the gun activity in real time.
The car pulled over a few minutes later and members of RPD approached it. They spoke to Mr. Gaskill, who was in the back seat, and another passenger who said they were going to a hospital because the driver of the vehicle was unwell. An officer asked for their identification and Mr. Gaskill provided him with a false identity and date of birth. While on scene, officers received additional information indicating the car likely had been involved in the gunshot activity of a few minutes earlier, detected by ShotSpotter. Officers returned to the vehicle to speak to Mr. Gaskill. As they were attempting to open the vehicle door, the two officers allegedly saw Mr. Gaskill reach to the right side of his waistband and draw a gun with his right hand. Footage from both officers’ body-worn cameras show the officers retreating from the car and repeatedly directing Mr. Gaskill to drop the gun. While both officers continued to retreat from the vehicle, Mr. Gaskill allegedly opened the rear passenger-side door, and, as he appeared to get out of the car, the officers ordered him to show his hands, and then discharged 11 shots, striking Mr. Gaskill six times. After the shooting, a loaded semi-automatic pistol, found near Mr. Gaskill’s right hand, was recovered from the car. Firearms analysis confirmed that the gun was the same gun that fired the gunshots detected by ShotSpotter earlier that morning.
Under New York’s justification law, in order to sustain charges against the officers for causing Mr. Gaskill’s death, OSI would need to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the officers were not justified in their use of deadly, physical force against Mr. Gaskill. In order to meet that burden, OSI would need to prove that the officers’ belief that Mr. Gaskill was about to use deadly, physical force was not reasonable or, alternatively, that the officers could have avoided using deadly, physical force by retreating with complete safety to themselves and others. In light of the facts and circumstances of this case, including but not limited to the fact that a loaded handgun was recovered from Mr. Gaskill after the shooting, OSI cannot meet that burden.
“My office is committed to conducting fair and thorough investigations into every case we review,” said Attorney General James. “Based on an extensive review of the facts of this case, OSI determined that the officers involved were not unjustified in their use of deadly force, as the law requires for bringing criminal charges. Despite the conclusive evidence in this case, I know Mr. Gaskill’s family is still coping with the loss of a loved one, and I offer my heartfelt condolences to the Gaskill family.”