Attorney General James’ Office of Special Investigations releases report on death of Judson Albahm

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NEW YORK – The Office of Special Investigations (OSI) of New York Attorney General Letitia James today released its report into the death of Judson Albahm of Jamesville, who died tragically after a family member concerned about his mental health called the police. After conducting an exhaustive investigation, the OSI concluded that a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the actions of the officers who shot Judson Albahm were justified. In its report, the OSI recommends that all members of law enforcement be equipped with body-worn cameras (BWC); that agencies better coordinate multi-agency responses, which is especially critical in areas of the state that may not have dedicated mental health crisis response teams; and that the state adopt stricter laws to regulate imitation weapons. OSI’s review of the incident included BWC footage, interviews with police and civilian witnesses, radio transmissions, medical records, forensic analysis and other forms of evidence.

On the afternoon of March 4, 2021, officers from the New York State Police, DeWitt Police Department and Onondaga Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call from a mother seeking help locate her teenage son, Judson Albahm, who left home in his car after a mental health crisis team arrived at the house for a previously scheduled assessment.

Officers located Judson in the woods near his home and followed him on foot throughout the area for approximately 30 minutes. Meanwhile, various responding officers saw what appeared to be a black gun in Judson’s hand and repeatedly ordered him to drop it. Some of the responding officers were told that Judson suffered from mental health issues and possessed air guns. However, many officers did not receive this information, and some were in fact told by the dispatcher that two 911 callers had seen a man matching Judson’s description carrying a black handgun.

After approximately 30 minutes of pursuit and conversation by different officers from the various agencies, Judson pointed the gun he was holding at two officers who had not been informed that he possessed air guns. They and other officers fired back. When recovered, the weapon turned out to be an air pistol without any markings to indicate that it was not a real firearm.

Under New York law, to convict a person of a crime, the onus is on the prosecution to disprove the justification beyond a reasonable doubt. When police attempt to arrest a person, they may use deadly physical force to defend themselves or others from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force. In this case, Judson pointed what appeared to be a black handgun at pursuing officers, who then fired on him after first issuing warnings. Based on the evidence and circumstances of this case, OSI has determined that criminal charges cannot be brought against the officers involved.

The OSI report includes recommendations for responding agencies to be better prepared to handle such situations in the future:

1) Equip all officers with body worn cameras. The OSI has previously recommended that all police departments equip their officers with BWCs and commends the efforts of the New York State Police and the DeWitt Police Department in this regard. However, the Onondaga Sheriff’s Office still has not equipped its officers with BWCs, and OSI recommends that all of its officers be equipped with BWCs as soon as possible.

2) Establish clear protocols when multiple agencies respond to an incident. The OSI strongly recommends that police departments establish inter-department coordination protocols for occasions when multiple departments respond to the same call. Agencies need to effectively share information, develop a plan, and coordinate their responses. In this case, not all officers knew that Judson had mental health issues.

3) New York should clarify and strengthen fake gun laws. Although current state law regulates the composition of imitation weapons, it is clear that these dangerous products are still widely available. New York City law requires imitation weapons to be fully brightly colored, but state law only requires bright markings on the sides and tip of the weapon’s barrel. Judson’s air pistol was illegal, as it was completely black and contained no brightly colored markings, but the OSI strongly recommends that New York State pass laws similar to New York City’s to help people clearly distinguish between real firearms and imitations.

“The loss of a child is the greatest pain a parent can endure, and I offer my deepest condolences to the Albahm family,” said Attorney General James. “This is a tragic incident that claimed the life of a young man struggling with mental health issues, and we all need to do better to support those in need. While this case does not warrant criminal charges against the officers based on the law, OSI has provided recommendations to help prevent such an incident from happening in the future. In addition to providing all officers with body-worn cameras and creating inter-agency protocols, it is essential that we create stronger laws to regulate and differentiate imitation weapons. No one should be able to buy, sell or possess a fake gun that so closely resembles a real firearm, and it is imperative that we take action to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.

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