Attorney General’s Special Investigations And Prosecutions Unit Releases Detailed Report And Findings Of Extensive Investigation Into Death Of Miguel Espinal In Yonkers

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 21, 2016

New York City Press Office / 212-416-8060
Albany Press Office / 518-473-5525
nyag.pressoffice@ag.NY.gov
Twitter: @AGSchneiderman

ATTORNEY GENERAL’S SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS AND PROSECUTIONS UNIT RELEASES DETAILED REPORT AND FINDINGS OF EXTENSIVE INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH OF MIGUEL ESPINAL IN YONKERS

Attorney General Schneiderman Urges Expansion Of Body Camera Programs, Citing Lack Of Visual Evidence Available For Investigations

NEW YORK –The Office of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released a report from its Special Investigations and Prosecution Unit (SIPU) regarding the December 2015 death of Miguel Espinal in Yonkers, following an interaction with the New York Police Department. The comprehensive investigation, led by Chief of the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit Alvin Bragg, found no criminal culpability in the death of Mr. Espinal.

Click here to read the full report.

SIPU undertook an exhaustive investigation that began immediately after the December 8, 2015 incident. Given that there were no witnesses to the shooting other than NYPD Officer Garthlette James, and no videotaped evidence, SIPU relied heavily on extensive forensic evidence to assess the credibility of Officer James’ account, including autopsy, microscopy, and toxicology records from the Westchester Medical Examiner’s Office and forensic analysis reports including Firearms, Trace Analysis, Gunshot Residue, and DNA reports.

Evidence uncovered during the investigation showed that the use of force by Officer James was justified under New York Penal Law. As the report states, the forensic evidence and totality of the circumstances corroborate Officer James’ account, and do not provide any basis for the Office of the Attorney General to disprove – as it must under the law – that Officer James reasonably believed that he was in danger of the imminent use of deadly force.

According to the report, Officer James and Officer Romeo Francis attempted to stop Mr. Espinal’s vehicle, which had heavily-tinted windows, in the Bronx. Rather than stopping, Mr. Espinal recklessly sped onto the Henry Hudson Parkway, collided with two other vehicles, and continued onto the Saw Mill River Parkway, where he made a U-turn, drove south against traffic in the northbound lane, and collided with three other civilian vehicles. Mr. Espinal then exited his vehicle and ran into the wooded area adjacent to the Parkway.

According to the report, Officer James and his partner pursued Mr. Espinal. Officer James stated that he caught up with with Mr. Espinal, who attempted to gain control of Officer James’ firearm; Officer James was able to wrestle Mr. Espinal to the ground, but Mr. Espinal continued to resist and reach for the firearm. Officer James then fired one shot into Mr. Espinal’s chest. Mr. Espinal continued to struggle, and was eventually handcuffed.  He was pronounced deceased by a paramedic who was called to the scene.

According to an autopsy conducted by the Westchester County Medical Examiner’s Office, Mr. Espinal’s cause of death was a single bullet wound to the chest. The location of the entry wound corroborates Officer James’ statement that he fired his gun while facing Mr. Espinal; abrasions on Mr. Espinal’s body (as well as on Officer James’ body) are consistent with Officer James’ account that he and Mr. Espinal wrestled with each other in the wooded area. The firearms report shows that the approximate distance between the muzzle of the gun and Mr. Espinal was between 14 and 18 inches, which corroborates Officer James’ statement that he was in close proximity to Mr. Espinal when he fired the weapon. 

The trace analysis report showed the presence of particles consistent with gunpowder on Mr. Espinal, which is consistent with Mr. Espinal attempting to wrest the firearm from Officer James. Furthermore, the primer gunshot residue analysis found residue on both of Mr. Espinal’s hands, supporting Officer James’ claim that Mr. Espinal’s hands were in very close proximity to the firearm when it was fired.

“Mr. Espinal’s death is a tragedy, and I extend my condolences to his family,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “We undertook an exhaustive, year-long review of this case -- and remain committed to ensuring comprehensive review and transparent accounting of all cases that fall under the Executive Order. The investigation of this case, and many others, would have benefitted greatly from videotaped evidence, and I urge policy makers and police departments across the state to implement body- and dashboard cameras.” 

The report was produced as part of Schneiderman’s role as the state’s special prosecutor. In July 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed the Attorney General to that role to oversee investigations into incidents where unarmed civilians die during interactions with police or in incidents where there is significant question as to whether the civilian was armed and dangerous. To date, the Attorney General’s Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit has launched investigations of seven incidents.