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DA: Guardiola shooting 'justified'

Questions about a 2017 fatal police shooting in Canandaigua were raised at a community forum

Julie Sherwood
A resident questions a fatal police shooting in 2017 involving Canandaigua City Police at a community forum Wednesday in Canandaigua. At the podium is Sim Covington, chief diversity officer at Finger Lakes Community College. The forum is to part of an effort to gather community input about Canandaigua City Police.

CANANDAIGUA — A number of people praised the Canandaigua City Police Department Wednesday at a community forum to gauge residents’ experiences with city police. Everyone who spoke had something positive to say — including one person who also asked about the case of Sandy Guardiola, who was shot to death in her bed by a Canandaigua police sergeant Oct, 4, 2017.

“I don’t understand. How could that have happened?” asked one of those who spoke at the forum attended by about 15 people.

The forum followed one earlier in the week as city leaders gather input that will be used to develop a policing reform plan. Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June directed each government in the state overseeing a police agency to adopt a policing reform plan by next April as a way of rebuilding community and police department relations.

The man questioning the fatal shooting of Ms. Guardiola said he is frustrated by the case. He asked what training police had before and after the incident.

“It seems there should have been a different end to that story,” he said. He added that his personal experience with city police during 33 years living in Canandaigua has been positive.

Ms. Guardiola, 48, an off-duty parole officer, was shot during an exchange of gunfire with Canandaigua Police Sgt. Scott Kadien, who had entered her residence to do a wellness check. She died later at the hospital. No charges were filed against Kadien, who has since left the police department. An Ontario County grand jury found Kadien was justified in using deadly force.

On the one-year anniversary of her death, Ms. Guardiola’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the U.S. District Court. The case came to light again this summer during Black Lives Matter rallies. Ms. Guardiola’s son, Andrew Ocasio, told his mother’s story at BLM events in the Canandaigua area and elsewhere, drawing similarities between her case and others in which people of color are killed by police.

Ontario County District Attorney Jim Ritts responded to concerns raised at the forum. Ritts is a member of the local coalition developing a policing reform plan based on resident input. Others on the coalition include members of the Canandaigua Police Department and the Ontario County District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices, as well as college, local agency and community representatives. The forum was held at Fort Hill Performing Arts Center Sands Family Foundation Theatre on Fort Hill Avenue.

Ritts said there are misperceptions about what happened, adding the state “did a full independent investigation” and the case went to a grand jury. He said that because Ms. Guardiola had suffered from a serious accident and did not respond to phone calls or answering her door, it was believed she had died. Ritts said Kadien obtained the key fob for her Pinnacle North residence and two employees from the apartments stood outside the door as Kadien entered, “announced his presence on multiple occasions, who he was, his identity as a police officer,” Ritts said, adding when Kadien entered the bedroom “he engaged her, he asked her if she needed help, if she needed an ambulance.”

According to Ritts, as Kadien “stepped back to secure and get that ambulance, Ms. Guardiola took her service revolver out and fired.”

“It turns out that the gun did not cycle, meaning it didn’t — it’s a semi-automatic and it didn’t kick out and rechamber another round,” said Ritts. But after that first discharge that actually went out the front of the building, Sgt. Kadien called out again and she had the gun and she was pointing the gun at him.”

“The witnesses said on three occasions, ‘Sandy, put the gun down, drop the gun, drop the gun,’” Ritts said. “At that point he has got a choice to make. He is confronted with deadly physical force, he knows that gun fires and she continues to point it at him.”

Ritts added there “are a lot of things we know outside of that about that situation that evening. The training for law enforcement is, when you are confronted with deadly physical force you shoot to stop. And that is what happened. The grand jury heard that information and the decision was that the behavior and the actions of Sgt. Kadien were justified on that night.”

He said he knows of situations where city police officers “have been confronted with deadly force, they have been confronted with mental illness, and they do a very nice job and have historically done a very nice job of talking people down and taking the time to talk to people about what’s going on and try to avoid that. That wasn’t an opportunity Oct, 4, 2017.”

Leading Wednesday’s forum was coalition member Sim Covington, chief diversity officer at Finger Lakes Community College. Covington encouraged people to share their experiences and shared his own, of moving to Canandaigua and entering his first Rotary meeting — as the only person of color in the room. He said he was welcomed to Canandaigua and his experience has been “extremely positive.”

Under this “new landscape police constantly need to be on the defensive just to do their job,” Covington said. He encouraged people to listen to one another. He said when people think of those different from themselves as “others,” that “creates a lack of empathy.”

If you listen, “it puts a heart behind the face,” he said.

Ritts said there are different experiences for people of color. “Black voices need to be heard,” he said. He believes that the Canandaigua police are doing a good job.

“But all of us can improve,” Ritts said. “This is just the start.”

One person asked how police are handling mental health crises. Canandaigua Police Chief Mathew Nielsen explained the department’s Crisis Intervention Team and the various methods of dealing with a wide range of situations. “No matter how long it takes,” the chief said, the goal is “to reach a peaceful resolution.”

One person asked about bail reform with concerns for public safety. Bail reform eliminates cash bail for most offenses except violent felonies, reducing the number of people jailed while awaiting trial. In April, legislators responded to mounting pressure from district attorneys and police unions, rolling back bail reforms. The action that took effect in July allows judges to hold more people on bail.

Nielsen said bail reform has “created a lot of confusion for police.” He said the matter must be addressed at the state level.

“We are still here, we will always show up if somebody calls,” he said.

Canandaigua Police Chief Mathew Nielsen speaks at a community forum Wednesday gathering public input on the city police department.