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TROY – The fatal 2016 shooting of a DWI suspect by a city police sergeant was legally justified, the city’s outside legal expert said in a report that rejected findings by the department’s internal affairs bureau that blamed the sergeant’s actions for the man’s death.
The city released the Dec. 3, 2018 report by Michael Ranalli that was commissioned by the police department after its Inspectional Services Bureau (ISB) found Sgt. Randall French was responsible for shooting Edson Thevenin in April 2016 and recommended disciplinary action.
The city withheld the 19-page report from public scrutiny until Thursday after the city settled the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Thevenin family for $1.55 million and it was discontinued Tuesday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel J. Stewart.
“Mr. Thevenin resisted a lawful arrest and it was his actions, not those of Sgt.French, that set this incident in motion,” Ranalli wrote.
“The ISB report concluded that Sgt. French is as responsible as Mr. Thevenin for the tragic outcome of this incident. This is legally inaccurate in that it ignores the fact that Sgt. French was a police officer attempting to make an authorized arrest,” wrote Ranalli, a former Glenville police chief and lawyer who specializes in law enforcement training and consulting.
“It also ignores the fact that Mr. Thevenin had a legal responsibility to comply. The ISB report inappropriately relies on case law that is not applicable to a police officer making an arrest,” Ranalli continued.
The shooting of Thevenin, a Black man, by French, a white officer, was highlighted by local Black Lives Matters demonstrators following the death of George Floyd in May 2020 while he was being arrested by four Minneapolis police officers. Local activists would use the Thevenin case to call for local police reforms.
The 69-page ISB report recommended that French be disciplined. It was written in September 2018 by Capt. Joseph Centanni. The report concluded that French lied about the circumstances surrounding his shooting of Thevenin. The report also criticized French’s actions in chasing Thevenin, using his patrol vehicle to crash Thevenin’s Honda sedan into a cement road barrier before exiting the vehicle and shooting at Thevenin eight times while he was seated in his car.
Ranalli spent about seven pages discussing memory and whether French lied. French died in 2020 after contracting COVID-19.
Ranalli said no one could “determine whether Sgt. French did or did not intentionally provide false statements. Based on the information available to me, my professional opinion is that it is more likely the statements of Sgt. French are the product of perceptual and memory distortions that have been proven to occur in and after such situations than it is that his intent was to deceive.”
Centanni’s attorney, Mathew Tully of Tully Rinckey, said the city’s decision to hire Ranalli to write the report was unusual in that it involved refuting a disciplinary action recommended by a veteran investigator.
“The hiring of an outside attorney to assist the city in avoiding disciplining an officer for obvious misconduct is unprecedented. Make no mistake about it, the settlement amount of $1.55 million is an unequivocal declaration of wrongdoing and the City of Troy cannot undo that truth,” Tully said.
“Releasing this report after settling the case for $1.55 million is like sending the iceberg coordinates to the Titanic after it crashed. It will surely cause more unnecessary anguish to the Thevenin and French families,” said Tully.
Centanni’s report only became public through the federal court case when its existence was revealed and made public in August 2019. Ranalli’s legal report about the case was withheld by the city as confidential attorney work product. It was shared with the City Council to review.