The state attorney general has taken over the investigation of a Sunday afternoon incident that left a suspect dead and a Buffalo Police officer wounded.
The takeover results from a two-year old executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, giving the state attorney general jurisdiction when someone who was not armed or it is unclear whether the person was armed dies during an encounter with police.
Investigators are looking into the situation that left Officer Joseph Acquino, 31, wounded and Jose Hernandez-Rossy, 26, dead under unclear circumstances. It is the second time the AG has stepped in locally. The last time was the February 7 death of Wardel Davis on Hoyt Street.
Lawyer Thomas Burton is counsel for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association and Acquino's partner, Justin Tedesco, 36, who shot Hernandez-Rossy.
"One officer here and his partner, who he had lived with, literally, for three years in a patrol car, screaming that he had been shot and he needed help and then he saw the wound, with the same individual that had a car full of narcotics trying to run away," said Burton, a former police officer. "You tell me that isn't probable cause to believe that his partner had just been shot by the driver."
Tedesco then shot Jose Herdandez-Rossy, who fled the scene, only to bleed to death a few blocks away. Burton said there is a fundamental legal issue involved.
"What was Tedesco's perception as to whether his partner had been shot? And, if that perception is legitimate and if it rises to reasonable cause to believe, then there is no criminal conduct," he said. In other words, a defense for that officer in firing."
There are a series of other issues that remain publicly unresolved. Police still will not say whether they found the weapon used to wound Acquino, why the two officers initially conducted a traffic stop on Hernandez-Rossy and what exactly led to the altercation.
Burton says eyewitnesses to parts of the events are being questioned, but that may not help much.
"The stressors that eyewitnesses can be under, especially when the guns come out, can leave out significant chunks of the facts and we are going to have to see," he said. "This thing will play out and the bottom line is that we're confident that, while the death of this fellow is certainly tragic, it wasn't something either one of these officers anticipated."
Acquino was discharged from Erie County Medical Center Tuesday after undergoing surgery for a head wound which involved re-attaching his ear.
Beyond saying it has taken over the investigation, the AG's Office also is not commenting. This authority has been used only about a dozen times before, to take over an investigation of an officer-involved shooting.
Buffalo Police, in a statement, say they have been and will continue to fully cooperate with the investigation by the attorney general. They ask anyone with information to contact authorities.