Attorney General James’ Office of Special Investigation Releases Report on Death of Simran Gordon
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI) today released its report on the death of Simran Gordon in Rochester, Monroe County. Following a thorough and comprehensive investigation, including review of footage from body worn cameras (BWCs), surveillance video, interviews with responding police officers and civilian witnesses, and review of radio transmissions, 911 calls, ballistics testing reports, crime scene evidence, and photographs, OSI concluded that a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the officer who shot Mr. Gordon was justified. In the report released today, OSI recommends that law enforcement agencies take special care to avoid prejudice or influence when issuing public statements about a person who died in an encounter with an officer of the law.
On October 6, 2021, around 9:30 p.m., Simran Gordon entered the Family Dollar store on West Main Street in Rochester and walked behind the front counter. He then showed the store employees a gun that he was holding in his sweatshirt pocket and told them to give him the money in the cash registers and the safe. After inputting the code to the safe, a store manager informed Mr. Gordon that the digital lock took five minutes to open. As this discussion was in progress, another employee went to a back room and called 911, telling the dispatcher that a man was robbing the store and holding employees at gunpoint. Two Rochester Police Department (RPD) officers were nearby and responded to the 911 call.
When the officers walked into the store, Mr. Gordon was still behind the counter, waiting for the safe to open. When the officers told Mr. Gordon to take his hands out of his sweatshirt pocket, he turned away from the officers and ran down a merchandise aisle toward the rear of the store. The first officer ran after Mr. Gordon in that same aisle, while the second officer ran down a parallel aisle. Mr. Gordon fired one shot at the officer running behind him. The officer fired back. Mr. Gordon fell to the floor but still kept his gun in his hand. The BWC footage shows Mr. Gordon appear to raise the gun toward the next aisle, prompting the first officer to fire another, final shot. The officers disarmed Mr. Gordon and called for back-up and an emergency medical team. Paramedics pronounced Mr. Gordon dead on the scene. Evidence technicians and investigators from OSI who arrived on the scene following the incident recovered a black Glock model 22, .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol.
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. To convict a person of a crime when the defense of justification is raised at trial, the prosecution must disprove justification beyond a reasonable doubt.
In this case, the investigation showed that Mr. Gordon fired at the officer first, and then appeared to threaten the other officer with his gun after he fell. Under these circumstances, given the law and the evidence, a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer who fired was justified, and OSI determined that criminal charges could not be pursued against the officer.
In the hours and days following the incident, RPD issued public statements alleging that Mr. Gordon was a suspect in prior homicides. The statements were made in such a manner that the public could have inferred that the officers’ actions were justified due to Mr. Gordon’s alleged prior conduct. OSI did not consider these allegations in the investigation presented in today’s report, as there is no evidence that the responding officers knew who Mr. Gordon was, and therefore prior conduct did not have an impact on the officers’ decision to use deadly physical force. In defense of the integrity of the investigation of a death, OSI recommends that at minimum, any statement made by a police department or law enforcement agency about a decedent’s alleged prior conduct must be well founded, appropriately framed as a mere allegation unless referring to a documented conviction, and prominently accompanied by a caution that the alleged prior conduct is not relevant to the officers’ conduct in the matter at hand.