Sheriff and chief speak out about police shooting

Sheriff Walsh (left) and Chief Fowler speak with Jim Kenyon Friday. / photo: Brian Erb

S yracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler and Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh are speaking out exclusively to CNY Central for the first time since a Grand Jury cleared two deputies and a police officer in the shooting death of a mentally ill man last month.

Fowler told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon, "I was pretty confident that... in interviewing the officers and looking at the evidence that the Grand Jury would come back with a no bill. The officers were put in an unfortunate position and they did what they had to do."

Sheriff Walsh added, "It fit the parameters of justified use of force."

On May 5th, the three officers shot and killed Benjamin Campione in the parking lot of the Regional Transportation Center on Park Street in Syracuse. The case was presented to a Grand Jury by the District Attorney's office, which is standard proceedure for such events. The Grand Jury found that Campione had pulled a pellet pistol which looked like a .357 Magnum revolver and pointed it at the officers. The officers fired 23 rounds at Campione, who was hit four times - once in the side, twice in the back and once in the buttocks. The Grand Jury report also noted that Campione was drunk, had cocaine in his system, and was off his medication for mental illness.

When asked about the number of shots fired and where Campione was hit, Walsh said, "The number of shots fired is inconsequential. Obviously it would be ideal if we could shoot like they do on television, one round and solve a situation, but that doesn't happen in real life. In real life the officers are fighting for their lives."

Fowler added, "The rounds were fired while the suspect was still on his feet, still had the weapon in his hand and still a threat to them, so those rounds that were fired were very necessary."

Both the sheriff and chief said the officers acted in accordance with their training, but Walsh called for the creation of a live fire training facility that could better prepare officers for such incidents. Walsh said, "We have a thousand people in this community, law enforcement agents that need this kind of training. We need a facility."

Fowler said his officers often train at rod and gun clubs. "They're designed for static shooting, stand in one spot and fire. Today in law enforcement we (need) a system where our officers can train in an actual shooting scene where they're going to be moving, the suspect is going to be moving, there's going to be different obstacles they have to negotiate while they're firing their weapons."

Walsh said such a live fire training facility would cost about $1.4 million, but he's never been able to convince legislators to come up with the money.

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