New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI) today released its report on the death of Timothy Flowers of Rochester. Following a thorough and comprehensive investigation, including interviews with police officers and civilian witnesses and close review of radio transmissions, ballistics testing, crime scene evidence, photographs, and footage from body worn cameras (BWCs), OSI concluded that the evidence does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting of Mr. Flowers by a member of the Rochester Police Department (RPD) was a crime. While the available evidence clearly showed what happened, OSI recommends that RPD equip its Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team officers with BWCs moving forward.
Fingerprints, eyewitnesses, and substantial other evidence established that Mr. Flowers was the probable shooter in three separate shooting incidents that injured others in Rochester on May 3, 6, and 10, 2021. The RPD prepared a “wanted package” for Mr. Flowers’ arrest on charges of Attempted Murder in the Second Degree, Assault in the First Degree, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree. The RPD SWAT Team officers searched for and found Mr. Flowers on June 4, 2021 after identifying a safe opportunity to apprehend him without endangering civilians. When Mr. Flowers saw the officers approaching him in a Rochester parking lot, he ran. Two officers followed him on foot to a residential neighborhood, where Mr. Flowers hid behind a house and fired at one of the officers, who fired back. Upon hearing gunfire, a second officer approached Mr. Flowers from the other side of the house. When Mr. Flowers turned toward the second officer, ignored orders to drop his gun and took aim, the second officer fired at Mr. Flowers. Mr. Flowers died from his injuries.
Under New York’s justification law, a person may use deadly physical force to defend against the imminent use of deadly physical force by another. When the defense of justification is raised at trial, a prosecutor has the burden to disprove it beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, Mr. Flowers had fired at one officer and was pointing his gun at the second officer when that officer fired. Both officers were aware that Mr. Flowers was suspected of shooting and wounding other individuals in three recent incidents. Based on the law and under these circumstances, OSI determined a prosecutor would not be able to disprove that the RPD officers’ actions were justified.
At the time of this incident in June 2021, RPD did not equip its SWAT Team officers with BWCs in an exception to its general policy (other officers involved in the incident did have BWCs). BWCs are critical to transparency, accountability, and safety. OSI recommends the department equip SWAT Teams with BWCs, unless a command-level exemption is obtained based on the needs of a particular case.
“My office upholds the highest standards of transparency and fairness in every investigation we undertake,” said Attorney General James. “After a thorough review of the facts of this incident, we concluded that officers were justified in their conduct in this case. In order to ensure continued transparency, it’s imperative that every law enforcement agency in New York is equipped with body-worn cameras, and we urge the Rochester Police Department to outfit every officer, including members of special teams, with this critical tool.”