DA will not file charges in Tillman death

A picture of the gun the NYPD asserted Tillman pointed at officers the night of his death. The picture was released in the aftermath of the shooting.
By Patrick Donachie

The police officers involved in the shooting death of a South Ozone Park man in April will not be charged with wrongdoing, according to a report released by the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

George Tillman was approached by NYPD officers at 1:30 a.m. April 17; officers claimed they saw him with an open container of alcohol leaning against the outside of an SUV, and also claimed they saw a firearm sticking out of his waistband. Police said Tillman fled, and a number of officers chased him.

Police said four officers fired on Tillman after he tried to pull the weapon at the corner of 116th Avenue and 135th Street. Tillman was shot 11 times and died of a fatal gunshot wound to the head. Elected officials, including state Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park), called for the state to assign a special prosecutor, but in May Attorney General Eric Schneiderman concluded that the Queens DA should conduct its own report, which has been released in full on his website at queensda.org. According to the Queens DA, an executive order mandates that the attorney general investigate any police shooting where the person shot was unarmed, but Schneiderman’s office claimed it did not have jurisdiction in this case.

Tillman was an electrician visiting this city from Maryland and a father of five. After the investigation, Brown said his office’s six-month inquiry corroborated the NYPD’s account.

“Under the circumstances, I believe that any fair and reasonable person would agree that to bring criminal proceedings against the officers would be totally unwarranted,” he said. “The investigation established that Mr. Tillman was armed with a loaded and operable firearm, that he ignored police commands to drop it and that he pointed it at the police.”

Brown said as Tillman turned toward his left and pointed the gun at officers, they shot in response. Brown said that all of the injuries Tillman sustained were consistent with someone who turned to his left. Brown also said investigators found Tillman’s DNA on the weapon that was recovered, but he acknowledged that no civilian witnesses saw the shooting. Sanders expressed frustration about the decision.

“It’s sad that it didn’t happen,” Sanders said about the DA’s decision not to file charges. “While it is true that we do not have all of the information that the DA has, it is also true that it is a rare occurrence if a police officer is ever charged, and rarer still that they are ever convicted in these types of cases, and that seems to fit a national pattern.”

Brown said his team interviewed NYPD officers and personnel, emergency responders and civilians, and investigated video recordings, police radio transmissions, crime scene and ballistics reports, as well as the autopsy report on Tillman.

“I have an ethical duty to institute criminal charges only where there is probable cause to support them,” Brown said. “This is not such a case.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

More from Around New York