Find us one more shot.
According to a lawsuit filed in the Western District of New York federal court, those are the instructions the Rochester Police Department sent to Shotspotter, a manufacturer of gunshot detection sensors, in the evening following the shooting of Silvon Simmons on April 1, 2016.
It had seemed like an uneventful night. Simmons headed out to a convenience store with his neighbor Detron Parker in a Chevy Impala. Their entire errand took all of 13 minutes. They left at 8:55pm and were back at 9:08pm. There were no disputes at the store, no traffic violations en route, and neither man had a warrant outstanding.
But they had company. Before the two exited the car, a police vehicle drove up to 9 Immel Street and an officer exited the police car with gun drawn. Simmons ran. Officer Ferigno shot his Glock pistol four times at 9:09pm, hitting Simmons’ body three times in the spine, buttock and upper leg.
When backup arrived, Simmons heard the officer who shot him report Simmons had a gun and had shot at Officer Ferigno and his partner. A Ruger hand gun was said to have been recovered at the site an hour or so later. The Ruger did not belong to Silvon Simmons. His fingerprints and DNA were not on the recovered gun. The only shell casings recovered at the site were the four bullets from the officer’s Glock. The Ruger had an empty magazine and it was not in the lockback position, indicating it had not been recently fired. Simmons requested his hands and clothing be checked for gunpowder residue. The request was denied. Simmons repeated the request in writing while intubated at the hospital and was told to stop writing questions.
Ten days after being shot three times, Silvon Simmons was charged with attempted aggravated murder, attempted aggravated assault on a police officer and 2 counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. On October 26, 2017, he would be acquitted of all charges, after a year and a half incarcerated in Monroe County Jail.
What did the Shotspotter gunshot detection sensor, installed by the Rochester Police Department at a cost of $130,000, report on the evening of April 1, 2016?
The Shotspotter forensic report noted that on April 2, 2016 at 12:55:57 a.m, the incident was reclassified to ‘multiple gunshots’ from ‘helicopter noise’. The reason: per customer. OIS (officer involved shooting).
What happened between 9:09 pm, when shots were fired, and 12:55 am when the report was reclassified from helicopter noise to multiple gunshots?
A Rochester police officer acknowledged at the criminal trial of Silvon Simmons that he left the shooting scene after midnight, returned to the fourth floor at the Central Investigations Division of the Rochester Police Department, logged onto a computer and opened a chat session with Shotspotter, where he provided the location, time, the number of possible shots and the caliber of the weapons allegedly fired. Officer Robert Wetzel also testified that Shotspotter responded to him that they found a fifth gunshot at his request.
On April 7, 2016, Shotspotter issued a Detailed Forensic Report which gave the times for the discharge of five rounds of gunfire with the first shot at 9:09:35 p.m. and the fifth shot at 9:09:38 p.m. Shotspotter forensic analyst Paul C. Greene certified the twice-altered report and testified as an expert witness at the criminal trial of Silvon Simmons that five shots were fired. This included the four shots definitively traced to Officer Ferigno’s Glock pistol by shell casings and an additional shot officers claimed was fired by Simmons. This conclusion was based solely upon information provided to Shotspotter by the Rochester Police Department.
Greene testified at the criminal trial that there was “no way to go and look at the original file that was recorded and there is no way to listen to all the audio from that day”. The reason there was no way to do this was that both Shotspotter and the Rochester Police Department had lost the audio recording from the night of April 1, 2016.
On August 27, 2018, Silvon Simmons sued the Rochester Police Department and Shotspotter for violations of his civil rights, alleging illegal search and seizure, false arrest, false imprisonment, the use of excessive force, falsification of evidence, malicious prosecution, and denial of a fair trial.
Private law enforcement vendors like Shotspotter (other examples include license plate reader vendor Vigilant Solutions and database vendor Forensic Logic) have been signing lucrative contracts with police and sheriff departments all over the country. They promise the police departments tools that will improve their performance. They promise their stockholders immense profits. They promise the public that high-tech policing will provide greater safety and scientific accuracy.
But the profit motive has one fundamental rule: the customer is always right. When the customer is law enforcement itself, then the basic axiom of keep the customer happy can turn a bit too easily into the events chronicled in Simmons vs City of Rochester.
No one can give back to Silvon Simmons the time he spent in prison, the trauma his body endured by being shot three times, or the terror of being charged with four felonies he did not commit, but maybe we can take a long look at the private companies embedding themselves into law enforcement to make a profit.
Sometimes ‘profit’ looks like an unsuccessful conspiracy to frame the unarmed black victim of a police shooting with four felonies.