Attorney General’s Office: Fatal shooting by Saranac Lake police ‘justified’
SARANAC LAKE — The New York State Attorney General’s Office of Special Investigation has deemed the fatal shooting of Joshua De’Miguel Kavota by a Saranac Lake police officer last summer as “justified” and is declining to press charges against the officer.
The office of state Attorney General Letitia James released a 12-page report on its investigation into the fatal shooting on Tuesday. The office, after a “full evaluation of the facts and the law,” said it would not seek to press charges against SLPD officer Aaron Sharlow because it concluded that “a prosecutor could not disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that his actions were justified.”
After the shooting, SLPD Chief Darin Perrotte placed both officers involved on administrative leave. Gabrielle Beebe returned to work in the department shortly after. Sharlow returned in late September 2022.
The report cites Article 35 in the state penal law, which sets out the legal justification for deadly force by a police officer. This includes the use of deadly force to protect another police officer from a person they “reasonably believe” to be posing an imminent risk of deadly physical force.
Katherine Rosenfeld, an attorney representing Kavota’s family through the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward and Maazel, said the family is not satisfied with the state’s ruling.
“Joshua’s senseless death raises up, again, that law enforcement officers need better training and tools about how respond to people in severe mental health crises,” Rosenfeld wrote in an email to the Enterprise. “His family mourns his loss and will continue to seek accountability.”
Perrotte said this was the outcome he expected from the AG investigation. He said the department stands by the officers and the decision they made that day.
“While a difficult one, it was the appropriate use of force according to our policies,” Perrotte said.
“Any loss of life is tragic,” he added.
Perrotte said the department regrets Kavota’s death and feels for his family.
“I think, if anything, this is just a showing that we need to do better with our mental health system in this country,” Perrotte said.
Sharlow declined to comment for this article.
The state Attorney General’s Office interviewed a total of 16 witnesses and reviewed police reports, evidence, radio transmissions, correspondence and videos before issuing its report.
The entire exchange between Kavota and police lasted less than 5 minutes, the report confirmed.
On June 29, 2022 at 8:32 a.m., SLPD officers Sharlow and Beebe responded to a report of a stabbing on Bloomingdale Avenue, down the street from the Stewart’s Shops gas station.
Kavota, 33, had been in an altercation with a mental health advocate at a Lakeside House residential community living program on Bloomingdale Avenue, where he had been living for approximately eight weeks. Kavota stabbed the advocate, who had been trying to get Kavota to the hospital for medical attention, before walking down the street to the gas station parking lot, the state AG’s office confirmed.
Beebe approached Kavota — who was standing outside the front door of Stewart’s Shops — and asked him to hand over the knife in his pocket. After a brief exchange, Kavota took the knife — a fixed-blade kitchen knife with a wooden handle — out of his pocket. Kavota charged at Beebe with the knife. She moved backward, tripped and fell. Sharlow shot Kavota as Kavota stood over Beebe. Beebe began treating Kavota’s gunshot wounds at 8:36 a.m. Kavota was later transported to Adirondack Medical Center, where, at 8:58 a.m., he was pronounced dead.
New York State Police investigators recovered two 9 millimeter casings and a knife with a 4.5 inch blade at the scene. An autopsy of Kavota conducted by Dr. Michael Sikirica at Albany Medical Center determined his cause of death to be a homicide.
“The investigation shows that officers Sharlow and Beebe responded to 911 calls of a man with a knife who had just stabbed someone. Therefore, even before arriving at the Stewart’s Shop the officers had information that a man had committed the offense of Assault in the First or Second Degree,” the report reads. “This information was confirmed upon their arrival at the Stewart’s Shop when, as (body cam) footage shows, officer Beebe asked Mr. Kavota for the knife and, instead putting the knife down, Mr. Kavota charged at officer Beebe with the knife in his hand. At that point the officers had reasonable cause to arrest Mr. Kavota, and officer Sharlow fired, reasonably using deadly physical force to prevent Mr. Kavota from using deadly physical force against another. As a result, OSI will not seek charges and closes the matter with the issuance of this report.”
Kavota was Black and Sharlow is white, sparking questions from some members of the community about whether this may have been a racially-motivated shooting. This report does not mention race. However, the Adirondack Diversity Initiative said last summer that they “do not believe it was a racially motivated incident.”
Paul DerOhannesian, an attorney representing Sharlow and Beebe, thanked the AG’s office for its “careful review of evidence, which depicts an unfortunate instance in which the use of force was necessary.”
“The death of Joshua Kavota is a tragedy, and the law enforcement community extends condolences to his loved ones. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred on June 29, 2022 is an example of the necessary split-second decisions that law enforcement officers are forced to make every day to protect our communities,” DerOhannesian said. ” The officers involved and all of SLPD continue to offer their thoughts and condolences to all impacted.”
Perrotte said he tries to learn from the tragedy and see if officers can do things differently in the future. He said he didn’t want to “Monday morning quarterback it” and that every situation is different and include split-second decisions, but “we’re our own biggest critics.”
He said there have been no major changes since the shooting. He said officers followed their policies to keep people safe according to best practices as set forth by the law.
“Certainly, it’s very trying. Especially on the officers involved,” Perrotte said.
For more than a year, he said they’ve been waiting on the results of the AG’s investigation. He said with the state confirming the officers’ actions were within the law, “a weight has been lifted.”
“They ended a situation that could have gone worse,” Perrotte said. “Really the officers’ actions that day were heroic.”
New information, video in report
The report revealed some previously unreported details.
A member of the public only identified as “P.W.” told investigators that Kavota entered Lakeside House on April 6, 2022. Lakeside House provides housing for psychiatrically disabled adults and is licensed through the state’s Office of Mental Health. Kavota lived there for around eight weeks before moving into his own apartment at 12 Bloomingdale Ave. through the organization’s supportive living program.
A Lakeside House staff member identified as “M.C.” told investigators that on the day of the stabbing, Kavota was showing “atypical behavior.” M.C. and another staff member identified as C.B. went to see Kavota. M.C. said Kavota had either blood or poop on his pants and fingers, so they told him to go to the ER, but he refused. As they talked about calling the police, he became “verbally aggressive” and pulled out a knife.
According to the report, M.C. ran away but Kavota stabbed him in the right side of his abdomen.
Security camera video of the stabbing, taken from a camera on the corner of the 64 Broadway building, shows the three talking outside in the parking lot. Kavota goes from standing still to swinging the knife quickly. He is seen chasing M.C. out into the street. The two are almost hit by a car turning from Broadway onto Bloomingdale Avenue. As the car passes, M.C. falls down with Kavota on top of him.
The two get up and Kavota points the knife at M.C. and while the Lakeside House staff get into their car and drive away, Kavota walks back towards the apartment building, the video shows.
At that point, two people called 911 to report the fight and C.B. called 911 from the hospital.
Callers described a Black male with a blue jacket going after people with a knife across the street from Stewart’s.
The report includes an interview with a Stewart’s manager identified as E.M. who said Kavota had came to the shop at 5 a.m. appearing agitated, but not more than normal. When he returned later, he was told to leave. Then, as the manager was working on a gasoline spill outside, a woman told her Kavota had been in a fight and was walking toward them. This manager activated her pendant panic holdup alarms and told other Stewart’s employees to activate theirs.
E.M. told customers to stay inside the store, where they saw Kavota lunge at Beebe.
“There was no doubt in my mind he was going to stab PO Beebe,” E.M. told investigators.
After Kavota was shot, E.M. left the store and she helped apply pressure to his gunshot wounds while officers prepared to do CPR.
The report can be read at tinyurl.com/yx55ruh6.