Public Weighs Meaning Of Killing, Mayor Says
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Not only has a police shooting made history in Oneonta, it’s making statewide history, too.
A new department in the state Attorney General’s Office, the Office of Special Investigations, created by Executive Order 147 after George Floyd’s death last May 25, opened its door on April 1, according to Sofia Quintanar, the AG’s deputy press secretary.
The office is empowered to “investigate and, if warranted, prosecute … a police officer … concerning any incident in which the death of a person, whether in custody or not, is caused by an act or omission.”
Five days later, on Tuesday, April 6, Tyler Green, 23, (also identified as Tyler Johnson in early reports), was shot twice after pulling a knife in a domestic dispute at 48 River St., by Sgt. Ralph Pajerski, an 18-year veteran of the Oneonta Police Department.
“This is the first in the state for our new department,” said Quintanar.
Both officers remain on the job, with Sergeant Pajerski on desk duty while the investigation is in progress, and his partner in responding to the 48 River situation, Officer Kristen Lapointe, resuming her regular duties, said OPD Chief Chris Witzenburg.
With officials and officers who have viewed Pajerski’s body cam saying it shows he acted as he had to, Witzenburg said, “The frustration for me is that it’s taking as long as it’s going to take – 6-8 weeks. But I understand they have an investigative procedure they’ve adopted, and I’m just going to have to trust it.”
Meanwhile, the chief said, in his view, any punitive steps – suspension, even with pay – are not warranted.
“I have reviewed the evidence myself,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “What is clear to me is that NOT acting instantaneously would have jeopardized the life of a 2-year-old child.”
In the dust-up that brought the officers to the scene, Green had cut Caityln Marie Calvey, his housemate and mother of his son, with a knife as they argued, and was threatening to do harm to the little boy as well. According to people who have seen the web cam, the whole incident took 12 seconds from the time the officers’ arrived.
It also turns out Green was shot in the back, not in the chest. He was Medevaced to Albany Medical Center, and died on the way.
Herzig said he’s getting two responses from the community: “One, how can I judge this situation without standing in the officers’ shoes. And two, people are glad it’s in the hands of the Attorney’s General Office, so they can do a thoughtful and unbiased investigation.”
He thinks the investigation will take not weeks, but months.
With Witzenburg promoted from lieutenant to interim chief on former Chief Doug Brenner’s retirement in January, Pajerski is in the second tier of the OPD’s Command Staff, sharing lieutenant responsibilities with the other sergeants, Christopher Catapano and Eric J. Berger.
Pajerski has been with the OPD since May 2003. He had received a bachelor’s in Criminology from Northern Illinois University, and has been promoted up the ranks from patrolman. He is an advanced accident investigator, a member of the OPD’s Special Response Team, and Traffic Safety coordinator.
“I think we all agree some police force is needed,” said Herzig, who sat in on the city’s Police Department Reform & Reinvention Collaborative, which released its plan, per another one of Governor Cuomo’s executive orders, on March 28. “But defining exactly what they should be is complex.”
He continued, “Some will undoubtedly cite this as proof that armed police response to domestic matters must end. Others will see this as an example of, if an unarmed social worker had responded, we could now be mourning a dead child.”