Attorney General James’ Office of Special Investigation Releases Report on the Death of Jesse Bonsignore
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI) today released its report on the death of Jesse Bonsignore of Suffolk County. Following a thorough investigation, which included interviews with responding officers, a civilian at the scene who called 911, as well as review of video, crime scene evidence, photographs, radio transmissions, and ballistics testing, OSI concluded that a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the officer who shot Mr. Bonsignore was justified.
On the evening of May 20, 2021, in Manorville, Suffolk County, an individual called 911 to report that there was an unknown man sleeping in the back seat of a car parked outside the individual’s house. The Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) officer who responded saw the man, Jesse Bonsignore, sleeping in the back seat of the parked car as reported, and knocked on the window. Mr. Bonsignore awoke, began screaming, and threatening to kill the officer. The officer directed Mr. Bonsignore to remain in the car and called for backup over the radio, but Mr. Bonsignore got out of the car. Despite the officer’s attempts to assure Mr. Bonsignore that he was not in trouble, he continued to repeat to the officer that he was going to kill him.
The officer noticed a folding knife on Mr. Bonsignore’s waistband, which was later recovered at the scene. The officer then attempted to handcuff Mr. Bonsignore to prevent him from using the knife, at which point Mr. Bonsignore resisted and pushed backward against the officer, causing both to fall to the ground. During the ensuing struggle, Mr. Bonsignore repeatedly attempted to grab his knife before reaching for the officer’s gun holster. The officer tried to restrain Mr. Bonsignore’s arms while pulling his gun from its holster to prevent Mr. Bonsignore from taking control of the gun. The officer reported Mr. Bonsignore then grabbed the wrist of the hand in which the officer was holding the gun, and the officer, fearing for his life, shot Mr. Bonsignore. The individual who first noticed Mr. Bonsignore and called police provided statements and security footage from outside his home to investigators that were consistent with this account.
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, the prosecutor must disprove it beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, Mr. Bonsignore repeatedly reached for his knife, attempted to take the officer’s firearm, and more than once threatened to kill the officer. Based on the law and the evidence, OSI determined that criminal charges could not be pursued against the officer.
The SCPD officer who shot Mr. Bonsignore was not equipped with a body-worn camera (BWC), and his patrol car did not have a dashboard camera. As a result of a corroborating eyewitness account and security camera footage, the facts of this case are clear. However, OSI recommends SCPD equip all officers with BWCs without delay.