Skip to main content

Take Back the Land Condemns Rochester Police “Shoot-to-Evict” Approach to Evict Formerly Homeless Man

Take Back the Land Rochester Calls for an Independent Investigation and Re-evaluation of Police Involvement in Evictions

Based on the facts currently known, Take Back the Land Rochester strongly condemns the shooting of Timothy Powell, a formerly homeless man,  by the Rochester police as a means of evicting him from his State St. apartment on January 29, 2013 in Rochester.  The shooting was 1) grossly disproportionate, 2) negligent in that neither the Family Crisis Intervention Team (FACIT) or the Emotionally Disturbed Person Response Team (EDPRT) were called to the incident—both teams specially designed to deescalate these situations and prevent these tragedies,  and 3) a grave escalation in Rochester Police Department’s frightening trend toward harsh tactics in handling evictions. Further, an independent investigator and Special prosecutor should be appointed to impartially investigate the shooting and police procedures around use of force and evictions.

Rochester Police Should Reassess Procedures in Handling Evictions

The Rochester police have shown an increasing trend toward heavy handedness during evictions.  The most notable example was the SWAT-like eviction operation of a Grandmother in March 2011 on Ravenwood Ave. where the City’s evictions procedures were brought into the national spotlight.  Seven people were arrested including the neighbor of the evictee, a 70-year old nurse in her pajamas.   Records obtained by FOIL request revealed that not only were more than a dozen officers present, they called up extra officers who were paid overtime and rented an RTS bus in the event that they would have to arrest dozens of the evicted family’s supporters.  Police should make every effort to prevent evictions from shootings, brutality, and swarming a residence by at very least deploying FACIT and EDPRT.  The EDPRT, part of the RPD's Special Operation Division, was created in 2004 for people that are experiencing a psychiartric emergency or increased emotional distress in order to connect the individuals to treatment and avoid criminal arrests.

Community groups have been calling for an end to police involvement in foreclosure-related evictions, advocating instead use nonviolent mediation strategies to resolve these disputes.  After the tragic event on State St., it may be necessary to end Rochester police involvement in all nonviolent civil disputes between landlords and tenants including evictions. We do not believe property rights to be more sacred than human life.

Officer Ott Has a History of Disproportionate Use of Force in Evictions

James Ott, who shot at Mr. Powell, has been implicated in violent police evictions in the past.   In July 2011, Officer Ott was involved in an incident where during an eviction an unarmed woman, Virginia Henry, was brutalized, slammed to the ground, and taken away in ambulance because of the heavy handed police response to the eviction (For more info see Group protests woman's eviction, police conduct, Democrat and Chronicle). Civil rights litigation is pending in State Supreme Court against Officer Ott for his involvement in the incident on Appleton St. For more background on the other shooter, see article here.

Independent Investigation With Future Recommendations is Necessary

In order to get a full and impartial understanding of Tuesday's incident, we need a credible independent investigation involving a specially appointed independent investigator and special prosecutor that doesn't have conflicts of interest with the local police department.  In this case, as in all cases of officer-involved shootings, Police Chief Sheppard publicly sanctioned the shooting as justified within 24 hours of the incident, preempting any counter-findings or fact-finding. Further, the Chief’s preliminary findings do not seem to be based on statements from the victim, but solely on statements of his officers. We hope can move on from this incident with comprehensive recommendations to avoid shootings and the unnecessary use of force by the Rochester police in future evictions.