Grand Jury: Deputy Justified In Using Deadly Force

OSWEGO, NY – A burden that police officers carry with them every day is whether they will be called on to do their duty and use deadly physical force against another human being. Many of them go their entire careers without having to make that life-changing decision.

On Friday, May 8, 2015, Deputy Mark Walton was faced with that difficult decision when a despondent subject pointed a loaded shotgun at him.

Sheriff Reuel Todd answers a question at Friday's press conference. Looking on are Major Francis S. Coots, Troop D Commander, New York State Police, and Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes.
Sheriff Reuel Todd answers a question at Friday’s press conference. Looking on are Major Francis S. Coots, Troop D Commander, New York State Police, and Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes.

The deputy made the decision to use deadly force to protect himself and the other police officers on the scene.

Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes and Oswego County Sheriff Reuel A. Todd requested that the New York State Police investigate the matter.

They held a joint press conference Friday to report the findings of the investigation and the Grand Jury’s report on it.

“First and foremost, on behalf of myself and all the members of law enforcement, I want to express our condolences to the family of David Schwalm. It is hard to lose a family member under any circumstance and it’s particularly difficult under these circumstances,” Oakes said at the start of Friday’s press conference announcing the findings of an Oswego County Grand Jury regarding the incident. “On behalf of our agency, we offer our condolences to the family and wish them the best as they grieve and try to recover from this loss.”

The DA went on to thank the State Police for working with the sheriff’s department and his office “to come in an investigate this matter so that we can make sure that the case was investigated fairly and fully by an outside agency so that the public, and most importantly Mr. Schwalm’s family could have full faith and confidence in the outcome of the investigation.”

On May 28, the state police investigation was reviewed by an Oswego County Grand Jury who filed its report in Oswego County Court Friday morning prior to the news conference. It indicated that “no criminal charges apply in this case,” Oakes said. That ends his office’s involvement in the matter, he added.

The DA said that he met privately with Schwalm’s family earlier this week to discuss the results of the investigation.

The family is still grieving. Oakes asked that the media and public respect their privacy.

Asked to elaborate on the conversation, the DA said, “I had a private conversation with his sons because I wanted to share the results of the investigation, give them a chance to absorb it. I don’t think it would be proper for me to talk about that conversation out of respect to them. I don’t want to speak on their behalf. It was private.”

“Taking a life is the most difficult decision any police officer can make throughout their career,” said Major Francis S. Coots, Troop D Commander, New York State Police. “The Oswego County Sheriff’s deputy who had to do this, it will probably affect him for the remainder of his life. Our condolences go out to the family of Mr. Schwalm.”

He described what happened on May 8 and the ensuing criminal investigation conducted by the State Police.

The situation began at approximately 11 a.m. that date when a despondent male subject called the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office and expressed the desire to end his life.

One of the methods the man spoke about would cause potential harm to others.

He indicated that he had a weapon; he didn’t say what type of weapon, just that he had a weapon. He also intimated to that investigator that he wanted to die.

Although the man wouldn’t give his name, the alert medical examiner’s investigator kept the subject on the phone for an extended period of time and he ultimately was able to learn the subject’s first name as well as his telephone number. The information was then forwarded to the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office.

That number was traced back to David Schwalm, 58, of 168 Auringer Road in Constantia.

The sheriff’s office checked its database, as is customary in these matters, and found that the department had dealt with Schwalm in 2007 on a similar incident which involved a firearm.

For that reason, three sheriff deputies and two investigators were sent to the scene in an attempt to keep Schwalm from harming himself or from acts that could harm others.

Upon arrival at the residence, the uniformed deputies established a perimeter around the residence to ensure the safety of others, while the investigators attempt to open a dialogue with Schwalm over the telephone.

There were two separate telephone calls made by the sheriff’s department investigator; both times, Schwalm terminated those calls. He refused any further contact.

Shortly after terminating the last telephone call, Schwalm exited the rear of the residence, unbeknownst to law enforcement. He was carrying what appeared to be a garbage bag in one hand and a shovel in the other and “an object yet to be determined.”

Deputy Walton ordered the subject to show his hands and when the man dropped what he was carrying, he leveled a long gun (shotgun), manipulating the action while raising the weapon at the deputy. The major noted that he couldn’t say if Schwalm was “looking down the barrel” only that the weapon was being pointed at the deputy.

After the deputy’s commands to drop the gun were ignored, the deputy discharged five rounds from his agency-issued .223 caliber patrol rifle, striking the subject three times from a distance of about 25 feet, “immediately terminating the threat.

The subject was deceased at the scene.

New York State Police members were sent to the scene to investigate the matter.

The Sheriff’s Office was completely cooperative in the following investigation, Major Coots, continued.

NYSP Bureau of Criminal Investigation personnel interviewed the sheriff’s department members who had been on the scene as well as others thought to have pertinent information.

What was learned during those interviews was compared to what Forensic Investigation Unit personnel found when processing the scene and when they attended the autopsy at the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office.

All information uncovered was consistent and indicated that the use of force was necessary and justified under New York State Penal Law.

“All of our facts were presented to Mr. Oakes so he could make that presentation to the Grand Jury,” Major Coots said.

The major was asked if he thought this was a “suicide.”

“My opinion is really not important. It’s what the facts say. The facts say that potential deadly force was being used against Deputy Walton. Deputy Walton feared for his life and the other deputies there. He took the appropriate and justifiable action,” he responded.

Sheriff Todd thanked the State Police for doing the investigation.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of our deputy,” he said. “Some of us have had guns pointed at us, but never had to use (our weapons). It’s tragic, it’s hard on everyone. The investigation shows we did nothing wrong. We have nothing to hide.”

Responding to ‘why did the investigation take so long?’ the sheriff replied, they didn’t want things “plastered all over the press until we had all of the facts and the families were able to absorb the information – there are two families involved here. Our department and their family. There was no threat to the community. It was my choice and I stand by that.”

“I’ve been here going on 42 years and we’ve never had (a situation where a deputy shot anyone). We’ve had people shot at,” he said.

The deputy will return to active duty when he and the sheriff feel he is ready.

“Every conversation I’ve had with him, including this morning to let him know what the findings were, he’s doing very well,” the sheriff said. “He will be returning to duty.”