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Albany's $3 Million Settlement for 2018 Police Shooting

A Controversial Act

The city of Albany has agreed to spend $3 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by Ellazar Williams. This payout comes nearly six years after a city police officer, Detective James Olsen, shot Williams in the back, rendering him permanently paralyzed from the chest down. The settlement, crucially, does not include any admission of liability by the city. Instead, Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Police Chief Eric Hawkins issued a statement expressing hope that the case's closure would bring some relief to the officers involved in the incident.

On August 20, 2018, detectives Jay Olsen, Lawrence Heid, and Chris Cornell responded to a 911 call regarding an armed individual. Olsen ended up shooting Ellazar Williams near the Tony Clemente Center for Education on Elk Street. Despite the seriousness of this encounter, no gun was ever recovered. The surveillance footage also failed to reveal a firearm. The officers, who were part of an undercover gun operation, drove around looking for men who fit a given description. They encountered Williams, who then fled, leading to a chase that ended in the courtyard.

What transpired in the courtyard remains a point of heated dispute. Police claim that Williams charged at Olsen, but surveillance video and Williams' testimony suggest that he was running away when he was shot. The bullet struck his left shoulder blade and lodged in his spine, paralyzing him. A grand jury cleared Olsen of any criminal wrongdoing later that year, and an internal police investigation also found no fault with the officers' actions. However, the circumstances of the shooting have left a lasting impact on the community and contributed to the strained relationship between Albany's police and its residents.

The Official Response

Mayor Sheehan and Chief Hawkins could have used this moment to acknowledge the community's enduring concerns. Yet, their joint statement celebrated the officers' actions and hoped for closure without addressing the public's ongoing discontent. Sheehan missed an opportunity to bridge the gap between the police force and the city's residents, many of whom view the $3 million payout as insufficient justice for an avoidable tragedy.

A Settlement Reached

Ellazar Williams’ attorneys, James Knox and Julie Nociolo, stated that the settlement's financial support aims to offer some measure of justice for what Williams has endured over the last six years.

Many see the $3 million settlement as a necessary, though painful, measure. The funds will go towards Williams' care for the rest of his life, a life irrevocably changed by a single bullet.

This case is not isolated in its implications. Albany's handling of the incident echoes other controversial police actions, like the case of Edson Thevenin in Troy, which also resulted in a hefty settlement. In both scenarios, city officials fell short of providing the moral leadership required to mend community relations. Legal resolutions can bring financial closure, but they fail to address the deeper, more pervasive issues of trust and accountability between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Albany’s $3 million settlement is emblematic of the broader challenges many American cities face as they grapple with police accountability and community trust. Settlements like this one often fall short of healing the social rifts and systemic issues that cause such tragedies. The community's persistent anger and the mayor’s missed opportunity for a reconciliatory dialogue underscore the need for more profound changes in how cities handle police-related incidents. To foster genuine healing, authorities must go beyond settlements and engage in meaningful conversations and actions that address the root causes of distrust and injustice.

If you have encountered civil rights violations or suffered from police brutality, Hacker Murphy, LLP is here to help. Our attorneys can investigate your case, and we may be able to bring you justice similar to the kind we got for Mr. Williams. For a free consultation with our team, contact us online or call our office at (518) 284-3183.

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