NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI) today released its report on 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, 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, OSI recommends that all members of law enforcement are equipped with body-worn cameras (BWCs); that agencies better coordinate multi-agency responses, which is particularly critical in areas of the state that may not have dedicated emergency mental health response teams; and that the state enact stronger laws to regulate imitation weapons. OSI’s review of the incident included footage from BWCs, 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 locating 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 evaluation.
Officers located Judson in the woods near his home and followed him on foot throughout the area for approximately 30 minutes. During that time, various responding officers saw what appeared to be a black pistol in Judson’s hand and directed him many times to drop it. Some of the responding officers were informed that Judson suffered from mental health issues and that he owned air guns. However, many of the officers were not provided with 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 owned air guns. They and other officers fired in return. When it was recovered, the weapon turned out to be an air gun that lacked any markings to indicate it was not a real firearm.
Under New York law, to convict a person of a crime, the burden is on the prosecution to disprove justification beyond a reasonable doubt. When police officers are attempting 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 at him after first issuing warnings. In light of the evidence and circumstances of this case, OSI determined that criminal charges could not be pursued against the officers involved.
OSI’s report includes recommendations to the responding agencies so that they will be better prepared to handle such situations going forward:
1) Outfit all officers with body-worn cameras. OSI has previously recommended that all police departments equip their officers with BWCs and commends the efforts that the New York State Police and DeWitt Police Department have made in this regard. However, the Onondaga Sheriff’s Office still has not outfitted 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. OSI strongly recommends that police agencies establish protocols for inter-agency coordination for those occasions when multiple agencies respond to the same call. Agencies need to effectively share information, make a plan, and coordinate their responses. In this case, not all of the officers were aware that Judson struggled with mental health issues.
3) New York should clarify and strengthen laws related to imitation firearms. While 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 entirely brightly colored, but state law only requires bright markings on the sides and tip of the gun barrel. Judson’s air gun was unlawful, as it was entirely black and did not contain any bright-colored markings, but OSI strongly recommends that New York state adopt laws similar to those in New York City to help people clearly distinguish between real and imitation firearms.
“Losing a child is the greatest pain that a parent can endure, and I offer my deepest condolences to the Albahm family,” said Attorney General James. “This was a tragic incident that claimed the life of a young man struggling with mental health issues, and we must all do better to support those in need. While this case did not warrant criminal charges against the officers based on the law, OSI provided recommendations to help prevent such an incident from occurring in the future. In addition to providing all officers with body-worn cameras and creating inter-agency protocols, it’s critical that we create stronger laws to regulate and differentiate imitation weapons. No one should be able to buy, sell, or own an imitation weapon that so closely resembles a real firearm, and it is imperative that we take action to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.”