Attorney General James' Office of Special Investigation Releases Report on Death of Brendon Burns

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI) today released its report on the death of Brendon Burns, who died on March 20, 2023 in Rochester, Monroe County. Following a thorough investigation, which included review of body-worn camera (BWC) footage, interviews with involved officers, and evidence from the scene, OSI concluded that a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office (MSCO) and Rochester Police Department (RPD) officers who shot Mr. Burns were justified.

On the afternoon of March 20, officers from MCSO, RPD, and the Brighton Police Department (BPD) were conducting surveillance near Mr. Burns’ residence on Milburn Street as part of an active criminal investigation. The officers saw Mr. Burns leave the house on foot, and one officer followed him. The officer identified himself to Mr. Burns, who then proceeded to run away from the officer while reaching into his waistband. Mr. Burns then removed his right hand from his waistband and raised it in the direction of the officer, who believed he was holding a handgun. The officer fired two shots at Mr. Burns, but he continued to run.

As Mr. Burns ran into the street, another officer got out of her car and fired twice at Mr. Burns. Mr. Burns then fell to the ground before getting back up and continuing to run. Four officers followed Mr. Burns on foot as he returned to the house and pulled a backpack out of a car that was parked in the driveway. Mr. Burns then proceeded to cut through the backyards of the houses on Milburn Street and officers continued to follow him. In the backyard of a nearby house, Mr. Burns began to dig into the backpack while the pursuing officers took cover and directed Mr. Burns to take his hands out of the backpack and put them up. Mr. Burns began assembling a shotgun he had pulled out of the backpack and the officers directed him to drop the gun. Mr. Burns then aimed the shotgun at the officers and they fired back in response, striking Mr. Burns. Officers handcuffed Mr. Burns and called for aid. Mr. Burns was pronounced dead at the scene. Officers recovered a shotgun, a box of ammunition, and a knife at the scene.

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 person. When the defense of justification is raised at trial, the prosecution must disprove justification beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, Mr. Burns, who was under investigation for his involvement in two prior shootings, assembled a shotgun and then pointed it at multiple officers after refusing commands to drop the weapon. Under these circumstances, based on the law and the evidence, a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers who fired were justified, and OSI determined that criminal charges could not be pursued in this matter.