Police: man who was killed by police intended suicide

Glenville Police Chief Steve Janik speaks as state and local police held a press conference Aug. 25, 2017.

ERIK JENKS/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHERGlenville Police Chief Steve Janik speaks as state and local police held a press conference Aug. 25, 2017. ERIK JENKS/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

By Steven Cook

Gazette Reporter

COLONIE — A man who was shot and killed by police outside his Glenville home last month rushed at officers while armed with a knife and intended for police to kill him, state police said Friday.

State police also determined the use of force by officers to be appropriate, Capt. Richard O’Brien said.

Police from Scotia and Glenville opened fire on 32-year-old Brian Skinner on July 28 at Skinner’s 10 Pashley Road home, as he charged at them holding a kitchen knife over his head, police said.

Glenville officer Ben Ferretti was struck by a bullet fired by another officer and was treated for the wound at Albany Medical Center. He has since been released from the hospital and was expected to recover fully, police officials said.

The state police, called in to conduct an outside investigation into the incident uncovered evidence of at least three prior suicide attempts by Skinner through other means, plus a possible earlier attempt within hours of the police shooting, officials said.

The 911 calls also were made from Skinner’s personal phone and appeared to be intended to put responding officers on the highest state of alert, police said. He reported a domestic incident where a man had a gun and closed the call with a scream.

“As a result of this investigation, we are able to conclude that the use of deadly physical force was appropriate, justified and in accordance with the use of force as authorized by the laws of the state of New York,” O’Brien said.

The medical examiner formally ruled Skinner’s cause of death as suicide by cop, O’Brien said.

The state Attorney General’s Office said earlier this month it would not investigatethe incident. The AG’s office is authorized to investigate cases that involve the deaths of unarmed suspects in confrontations with police.

In all, eight officers from Scotia and Glenville responded to the initial gun-threat report. Three of those officers fired nine total shots, police said.  Police identified those officers as Glenville Sgt. Matthew Weise and Scotia officers Danielle Peck and Mark Kopczynski.

Skinner was struck six times, Ferretti once. Police have yet to determine which officer fired the bullet that struck Ferretti, police said. They believe the bullet that hit Ferretti was a direct hit, rather than a ricochet and haven’t ruled out whether that bullet first grazed Skinner.

The incident began at 11 p.m. that night as someone, believed to be Skinner, called 911 and reported being in the home’s basement as someone he described as his boyfriend threatened him from the first floor with a gun.

The caller refused to identify himself and implied that the man with the gun was the resident of the house, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said.

After officers arrived, they saw lights going out on the first floor, further heightening their alert, police said. Investigators found no evidence of anyone other than Skinner present.

“He made it into a very threatening situation, to make sure that the police came ready to confront a man with a gun bent on harming somebody,” Carney said in describing the 911 call.

“So, put that all together,” Carney said, “and it seems pretty clear that, at this point, the conclusions are well justified by all the evidence that this was a very tragic and unfortunate decision by Mr. Skinner to end his life.”

Investigators are still awaiting some further information, including from toxicology tests on Skinner, before concluding the case entirely, Carney said.

However, the state police and medical examiner conclusions appear valid and the case is not one of criminal culpability on the part of any officer, Carney said.

Skinner, a fifth-grade teacher at Orenda Elementary School in the Shenendehowa Central School District, was remembered as a good guy and an understanding teacher.

Investigators, however, learned of another side of Skinner, someone who long suffered from depression and who had received treatment for it in the past.
They learned of the three prior suicide attempts from medical records and family. When searching his house after the shooting, they also learned of an apparent attempt earlier that evening.

Skinner had driven his car earlier that day, but it sat in the garage with a garden hose out the tail pipe. The officers who found it also detected exhaust in the garage air.

His day’s activities, which included interactions with family and friends, showed no signs of what was to come, O’Brien said.

No recordings, either video or audio, exist of the incident, officials said. Neither Glenville nor Scotia officers wear microphones or body cameras.

Skinner charged and officers fired about 16 minutes after the original call, police said, prompted by Skinner exiting the home and charging. Police described the blade as 8 inches long, with a 4-inch handle.

Skinner, officers reported, gave a quick scan of his yard before appearing to focus on a single officer, Kopczynski. He then started running toward Kopczynski, O’Brien said. Glenville had no prior dealings with Skinner.

Glenville Police Chief Steven Janik and Scotia Police Chief Peter Frisoni said officers get reality-based training in such incidents, but Janik noted that the events of that evening were very particular.

“There’s no specific training for suicide-by-cop,” Frisoni said, “because you don’t know that’s what their intent is. We don’t go into a situation knowing that.

But a charging suspect with a knife presents special dangers for officers, O’Brien said.

“Two things that go against any law enforcement officer with any type of weapon like that are time and distance,” O’Brien said, “and we’re losing both by somebody charging at us.”

The officers’ lives were in danger, O’Brien said. “I have no doubt about that,” he said, “and they made the right decision.”

Ferretti remains on the mend, but is on the road to a quick recovery. The 22-year-old officer wants to get back as soon as he can, Chief Janik said.

“I’m sure that he’ll be back sooner, rather than later,” Janik said.