Diversity group: Shooting was not racially motivated

The parking lot of Stewart's Shops in Saranac Lake is seen here following Wednesday's fatal shooting. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Members of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative on Saturday, after reviewing body camera footage from the shooting of a Black man who was holding a knife by a Saranac Lake Village Police officer on Wednesday, said they “do not believe it was a racially motivated incident.”

Joshua Kavota, 33, of Saranac Lake was killed in the Stewart’s Shops parking lot on Wednesday after stabbing a man on Bloomingdale Avenue and “lunging” at an SLPD officer.

ADI also revealed that the man who was stabbed, whose name has not been released yet, was a mental health advocate. The man who was stabbed was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries and released on Wednesday, according to village police.

Because Kavota was Black and the officers were white, and due to the prevalence of Black people being killed by police in America, ADI conducted a review of the incident.

“It appears from the evidence that the officer’s life was in imminent danger,” ADI wrote in a statement.

ADI provided a timeline of events based on its review of the footage and conversations with law enforcement.

“Joshua Kavota was in the process of working with mental health advocates who had been called to intervene, based on his erratic behavior,” ADI wrote. “That encounter resulted in Mr. Kavota stabbing a mental health advocate.”

SLPD officers Aaron Sharlow and Gabrielle Beebe responded to the Stewart’s Shops around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday for a report of a stabbing.

“Officers immediately attempted de-escalation techniques to persuade Mr. Kavota to surrender the knife,” ADI wrote.

Eyewitnesses heard Beebe ask Kavota, “Hey, can I see the knife?” and “I’m going to need you to pull the knife out and show me.” They also heard Kavota refuse to hand over the knife.

“He repeatedly refused and lunged at the requesting officer (Beebe) with the knife,” ADI wrote. “The approaching officer (Beebe) attempted to distance herself, and fell to the ground.”

Sharlow fired his gun twice, hitting Kavota in the chest.

“The officers immediately responded with life-saving efforts,” ADI wrote. “EMS arrived on scene within a minute-and-a-half.”

Eyewitnesses said they saw police and Stewart’s employees trying to stop the bleeding and performing CPR.

“Regardless of the de-escalation techniques and actions of the Saranac Lake officers, this remains a true tragedy that our entire community grieves,” ADI wrote. “It is a very difficult situation, and we are sure that all involved will relive it for some time.”

ADI’s work with SLPD

ADI has been working with the SLPD as it conducted a state-required review of its policies last year and offered mental health and diversity trainings for its officers through Renz Consulting — a law enforcement training and consulting firm ADI contracts with, led by former and current law enforcement members.

Last year, Sharlow attended a Crisis Intervention Team training run by the Institute for Police, Mental Health and Community Collaboration, which was designed to improve police interactions with people in mental health, substance abuse or emotional crises.

SLPD Chief Darin Perrotte has turned control of the investigation over to New York State Police and the state Attorney General’s Office “to ensure transparency.”

Sharlow and Beebe have been placed on administrative leave during this investigation.

ADI members say they are working with the village mayor, police chief and State Police to release the body camera footage “as soon as possible.”

“We ask that the community remain patient for the release of all information and conclusion of the investigation,” ADI wrote.

‘A tragedy’

On Thursday, ADI issued a statement expressing grief for everyone involved in Wednesday’s violence.

“(Adirondack North Country Association) and the Adirondack Diversity Initiative wish to offer our deepest condolences to the family of the deceased. We also wish to express our profound concern for the recovering victim, our local police partners, and our community — especially residents of color,” Adirondack Diversity Initiative Associate Director Melanie Reding wrote. “While we wait for the facts of the case to unfold, ADI’s Community Policing Initiative is on the ground and in communication with Mayor (Jimmy) Williams and New York State Police Troop B. We are also coordinating with our partners at RENZ Consulting, who specialize in strengthening police-community relations.”

“We are committed to supporting all members of our community during this difficult time,” she added.

Eric Sperger, a property manager for Nicastro & Cantwell who said Kavota was a tenant of his, said Kavota was a client of Lakeside House, a human services organization that focuses on housing people with mental illness in town.

Lakeside House Residence Manager Peter Wood has declined to comment, saying he needs to speak with the organization’s board first. Wood said he may be able to comment more, and give more details about Kavota, after speaking with his board.

“It’s a tragedy,” Wood said.

Anyone who may have witnessed the incident or who has additional information is asked to contact State Police at 518-873-2750.


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