By Patrick Donachie
A Queens lawmaker has asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the death of a man who was shot by NYPD officers last weekend, saying that an external investigation could help ensure objectivity.
State Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Rochdale Village) asked the governor’s office to appoint the prosecutor to probe the death of George Tillman, 32, who was shot by police at the intersection of 135th Street and 116th Avenue in South Ozone Park at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday.
“They have a wealth of experience and resources to bring to bear,” Sanders said in a phone interview, referring to state Attorney General Eric Scheiderman’s office. “And by being impartial, they have the ability to be far more objective.”
Police said that on the evening of the shooting, two plainclothes officers from the 106th Precinct’s Special Conditions Unit approached Tillman in an unmarked car after they saw him leaning against the outside of a double-parked SUV holding an open container of alcohol. The police said the officers were able to make out the butt of a .40-caliber Hi-Point pistol in his waistband. Two officers approached Tillman, according to police, who then fled the scene on foot with the officers in pursuit.
Three additional police officers joined the chase. Police said Tillman reached for his weapon when he was confronted by the officers, Four of the officers fired, hitting Tillman several times, and he was later pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital. According to police, the weapon Tillman had was found at the scene.
Sanders said he decided to make the request after being shown videos from two different sources that captured the moments leading up to Tillman’s death. The lawmaker did not disclose the contents of the videos, but said they were from surveillance cameras, not cell phone videos. He also said neighbors were worried about police intimidation after police officers allegedly entered the homes of residents near the scene of the shooting on the night it happened.
In addition to Sanders’ request for an inquiry, Leroy Gadsden, the president of the Jamaica branch of the NAACP, also called on Scheiderman to appoint a prosecutor to investigate the shooting.
“Our investigation reveals that at the time of the initial encounter with the police, Mr. Tillman was not in the process of committing any crime nor was the community in any stage of aggression, hostility, or criminal or unusual behavior,” Gadsden wrote in a letter to Scheiderman. “Therefore, we are concerned as to how what appeared to be a possible open container violation charge escalated into a police killing.”
Sanders said he expected a “positive outcome” from the governor’s office to his request for a special prosecutor.
Calls for comment from the NYPD, the governor’s office and the office of the attorney general were unanswered as of presstime.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona