ALBANY — After more than four hours of deliberation Thursday, a jury in a civil trial has yet to reach a consensus on whether the use of lethal force by a Schenectady Police Department detective during a shooting in 2016 was justified.
The jury must decide whether Detective Brett Ferris faced a credible threat to his own life before firing six shots at 33-year-old Joshua Scism, killing him with a single bullet to the back of the neck.
The jury’s verdict will likely come down to whether its eight members — five men and three women after the dismissal of a ninth juror — believe Scism was looking for the 9mm handgun he slipped into his belt.
The fatal shooting is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed in 2018 by Scism’s widow, Chrystal Scism, administrator of Joshua Scism’s estate. The lawsuit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York before Judge Therese Wiley Dancks, and he is seeking compensation for the Scism family’s civil rights violations. The lawsuit alleges that Scism’s death was the result of excessive lethal force on the part of police.
During closing arguments, Andrew Finkelstein, an attorney for the plaintiff, asked the jury to consider compensation of between $10 million and $15 million for the plaintiff.
The shooting occurred during a drug sting on June 13, 2016 in the Scism neighborhood involving three Schenectady Police detectives and a confidential informant. As the law enforcement team prepared for the operation on First Avenue, Scism approached the parked van and told the undercover officers to leave and that he had children. But after Ferris, who was in the driver’s seat, saw Scism had a gun, he yelled “he’s got a heater” and got out of the van before firing six shots, including one that was fatal. in 1.7 seconds. The entire interaction between Ferris and Scism lasted 22 seconds.
Ferris, who started working for the SPD in 2007, has never verbally identified himself as a police officer, saying under oath there was no opportunity to do so. But he shouted “get on the [expletive] field.” Ferris also testified that he showed Scism his badge attached to his belt and that Scism looked in his direction.
In his closing arguments Thursday morning, Finkelstein argued that Scism was on the run for his life from a shooter he suspected of being a drug trafficker. The plaintiff’s team maintained that Scism had never raised its weapon against the police.
But the defense argued that Scism, who was not the subject of the drug sting and was not known to law enforcement at the scene, showed his gun to undercover cops in a threatening manner. and he was turning around. to shoot when Ferris started shooting his own pistol.
Scism never fired his gun.
The trial featured both sides offering competing accounts of the shooting and even disagreeing about how to read the physical evidence. For example, the plaintiff’s team said the bullet hole in the back of the head was evidence that Scism was running from Ferris, while the defense team argued that Scism was turning to avoid the gunfire after getting away. be turned to face Ferris.
The plaintiff’s team sought to cast doubt on law enforcement’s version of events, arguing that the confidential informant, who was not a police officer, testified in 2020 saying he had never saw Scism pointing his gun at anyone. (The informant gave conflicting testimony in 2016 after the shooting.) Finkelstein speculated that police were preparing identical stories to explain the shooting, with detectives’ descriptions around the shooting taking on uniformity, despite discrepancies elsewhere. in the timeline of the incident.
“At the moment of truth, there was exact unison, like a symphony,” Finkelstein said. “That’s why I think they staged it.”
The defense team called the plaintiff’s theory baseless.
“The plaintiff did not even attempt to connect his provocative theory to evidence,” Ferris attorney Gregg Johnson said in closing. “They just threw that insulting and derogatory statement out and left it hanging in the air during this trial.”
The jury is due back in the courtroom at 9 a.m. Friday.
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.
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