By Amanda Fries Times Union ALBANY, NY — An internal police probe revealed Thursday that the shooting of 19-year-old Ellazar Williams by an Albany detective during a chase on Aug. 20 was “justified.”

Williams, who moved to Albany from Binghamton several months ago, was paralyzed from the waist down after Albany Detective James Olsen shot him behind the Tony Clemente Center for Education after a brief chase from Central Avenue to Elk Street.

“We always try to resolve these types of incidents as peacefully as possible,” new police Chief Eric Hawkins said, first offering thoughts and prayers to Williams and his family. “In this case, per an internal investigation, the use of force was necessary, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a very traumatic experience for everybody involved and we’re very sensitive to that.”

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Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins and Commander Michael Basile discuss Ellazar Williams shooting investigation.

Posted by Albany Times Union on Thursday, September 6, 2018

Hawkins was briefed on the officer-involved shooting and interviewed the detectives involved in the hours since he’s taken the helm of the roughly 300-staff department, but turned the Thursday news conference over to Commander Michael Basile, who was acting chief when Williams was shot.

Hawkins will be sworn in as police chief Friday.

Basile presented the evidence gathered during a two-and-a-half-week investigation, including still images from video surveillance footage showing Williams, audio tape of 911 and police calls and maps tracing Williams’ route and that of police during the incident to demonstrate their findings.

Police said Williams matched the description of the man who displayed a gun during a fight at a local convenience store and fled when detectives tried to stop him. Williams ran to the nearby school, while detectives pursued in a vehicle. Olsen then chased Williams on foot to a fenced in courtyard near the rear of the Elk Street school.

What transpired next happened in a matter of seconds, Basile said, with Williams running and tripping in the courtyard and dropping a knife. Olsen ordered Williams to stay down, but police say Williams reached for the dropped knife.

Olsen “witnesses Mr. Williams fall, drop the knife, rearm himself and become an eminent danger towards the detective,” Basile said, describing some of the surveillance footage shown. “At which point, the detective, recognizing the threat and fearing for his safety, is forced to fire two rounds from his duty weapon striking Mr. Williams one time in the left rear shoulder.”

Police couldn’t definitively say whether Williams was standing, getting up, or still on the ground when the shots were fired.

Basile said the motions of Williams and Olsen were “fluid,” and as soon as Williams went to pick up the knife he became a threat to the detective and Olsen is authorized to use “necessary force to cease that.”

Williams was charged with felony menacing and misdemeanor weapons possession. He is represented by Steve Sharp from the public defender’s office.

Olsen remains on administrative duties until the investigation is complete, which will be wrapped up Friday with the necessary paperwork, Basile said. The two other detectives involved, Lawrence Heid and Christopher Cornell, are back on duty, he said.

The ambiguity of what occurred in the school courtyard continues to weigh on community leaders’ minds.

Alice Green, director of the Center for Law and Justice, emphasized that she’s not being critical of the department’s findings, but noted that the investigation was limited.

The video footage doesn’t completely capture the detective in the frame, Williams hasn’t talked to police at the advice of his attorney and police haven’t seen medical reports that could offer more perspective on the shot that hit Williams. Police also are unsure which of the two shots hit Williams, and where the stray bullet landed.

Plus, there are discrepancies on where exactly Williams was shot. Police say he was shot in the shoulder, but the community and Williams’ brother, Nick Grimm, say Williams was shot in the back, Green said.

“We don’t understand exactly what was happening when (Williams) reached down to pick up the knife, and why that was a threat,” she said. “I’m not being critical of their report, I’m sure that they did everything that they could with the information that they have, but they don’t have all of it.”

The matter is under review by Albany County District Attorney David Soares, who has been apprised of the incident by Albany police.

The primary accounts came from the three detectives involved – who were interviewed 72 hours after the incident per union and department policy – and the various video, 911 and police audio clips available.

Body worn cameras have not been rolled out to all detectives who may be on the street yet, but Basile said the equipment would be made available soon. Detectives are expected to receive training on the equipment and the department’s policy next week, he added.

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