The New York Attorney General has announced it will investigate the death of Troy Hodge, a Lockport man who died after a scuffle with city police early Monday morning.
The office is required, per a 2015 executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to act as special prosecutor in cases involving unarmed civilians who die in encounters with police or if there is uncertainty over whether the individual was armed.
“The Office of Attorney General has determined that we will assert jurisdiction in this matter. We are committed to a thorough and impartial investigation,” the office stated in a press release, adding only that it has no further comment at this time.
Police sources have yet to state publicly whether Hodge, 39, of Lockport, was armed in the encounter that preceded his death. Officers recovered a knife at the scene, but Chief Steven Preisch said he hasn’t yet determined whether the knife was found in Hodge’s pocket, in his hand or elsewhere. Hodge’s supporters say he had a closed pocket-knife, described as a fishing knife, that remained in his pocket throughout the encounter.
“He is no threat. He is not violent,” said Carl Person, a city resident and longtime friend of Hodge.
Thomas Burton, an attorney representing the four officers involved, said there is no question Hodge was armed during the encounter.
“It took a hell of a battle to get it out of his hand,” Burton said.
Police were called to 217 Park Ave. about 11:40 p.m. June 16 after Hodge’s mother, Fatima Hodge, reported that her son was behaving erratically and requested help. Dispatchers also sent an ambulance from Twin City Ambulance, but it arrived 15 to 20 minutes later, Preisch said Wednesday.
Hodge told officers he was going to go into the house to get a gun, prompting an altercation that drew in another three city officers and four Niagara County Sheriff’s deputies, according to police.
Hodge sustained facial injuries during the incident and was Tased once.
Hodge’s friends and family say he was handcuffed and on the ground when he was Tased, and that officers body-slammed him into the ground. Asked about that allegation, Preisch said, “I don’t believe that’s accurate from what I know.”
In a 78-second video shot by a bystander across the street, Hodge can be heard shouting, “Mom, don’t let them kill me. Don’t let them kill me.”
Other voices in the video can be heard saying, “Let go of the knife,” followed by a sound that apparently was a shot from the Taser.
The video’s authenticity was confirmed by both an attorney representing the family and Preisch, who added that it omitted crucial events earlier and later on in the incident.
Dozens of residents rallied at city hall Wednesday to demand answers and call for changes to police practices, particularly with encounters with African-Americans and those with mental health issues.
Several speakers asked about the availability of evidence, particularly body-camera footage. Preisch said only two of the responding officers wore body-cameras but neither captured the incident; one fell off the officer and the other was off. District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek said her office was reviewing the evidence, including body-camera footage from the deputies.
Wojtaszek also assured rallying residents they will eventually “know every single fact of this case as I know it.”
Wojtaszek said her office has shared information with attorney general’s office investigators since the morning of Hodge’s death.
“Whether our office or the attorney general’s office (is investigating), the important aspect of this is there’s transparency to build the public trust and that the community gets the answers that they need and deserve,” Wojtaszek said.
The attorney general’s office, upon completing such investigations, typically releases public reports detailing the fatal encounter.