INTERVIEW: Oneonta Mayor On Recent Police Shooting, AG Investigation

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — A man was shot by a Oneonta police officer on April 6.

23-year-old Tyler Green died after he was shot by Patrol Sergeant Ralph Pajerski, who was responding to a domestic violence call with his partner.

Green and Pajerski are white.

Green allegedly was holding a knife and reaching for his two-year-old at the time. Both officers pulled their guns. They requested leave following the incident, and have since returned to work—Pajerski was assigned to administrative duties.

Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig spoke with WSKG’s Sarah Gager about the incident.

SARAH GAGER: Mayor Herzig, the officers involved requested leave for an indeterminate amount of time. Is that paid leave?

Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig. (Photo courtesy Gary Herzig)

MAYOR GARY HERZIG: Yes, Sarah. You know, both officers were through a very traumatic event. They have both requested a little bit of time away so that they can process that and deal with what has been something that was clearly a difficult thing for anybody to have to go through.

SG: Are they receiving any services to help them through that traumatic experience?

GH: The city provides them and connects them with all of the professional assistance that they may require.

SG: Then that’s not mandatory that they take advantage of those services.

GH: No, that is not mandatory.

SG: Recently, the state pushed for local governments to reform policing laws is there deescalation training included in Oneonta’s plan?

GH: There is, and this incident, taking place in the midst of our efforts to define police reform and reinvention, will certainly add to the discussion. You know, some will cite this incident as proof that the practice of armed police responding to a domestic matter should end. Others will say that if unarmed social workers had responded, we may now be mourning a dead child. These are very, very difficult questions, and there is no doubt that this incident coming when it does, will add to the discussion. And these are difficult discussions, but every community must have them right now.

SG: So when will OPD get deescalation training?

GH: Well, you know, we’re in the very early stages of defining our police reform plan. Our community advisory board put together a very extensive plan that really did outline, clear reform for police and reinvention. It is now in the hands of our council, I have appointed a council committee to develop an implementation plan. The board came up with a list of strong well thought out recommendations. Now, it’s up to the council to put together an actual plan and timeline for implementation.

SG: Other than possible deescalation training was there anything else in Oneonta’s plan that you believe could make a difference in a situation like this?

GH: What’s hard about this, Sarah, is that every situation is so different. And the same response in one situation can have a very different outcome in a similar situation because human behavior is sometimes hard to predict. That’s the challenge that we face. Now, I think it’s universally accepted that the police need additional training, not only in tactical training, which they focus on now, but in training and providing social assistance. You know, unfortunately, reality is is that no matter what takes place and people need assistance, who do they call? They call the police. And that’s because who else is available 24/7 to respond to anything, anytime you need help. Some of the change that we need to look at and seeing that there are other resources available than police to respond to emergencies.

SG: You have previously mentioned that this is the first police shooting in Oneonta in recent memory. Is there something distinct about your city that makes that true?

GH: Oneonta is a small community. It is a very tightly-knit community. Many people here have lived here their entire life. It is not one where we expect to see a fatal shooting. But this can happen anywhere.

SG: The state Attorney General’s office will investigate because the office investigates all police-involved deaths. So what are you hoping to learn from that investigation?

GH: Well, you know, I will say that having reviewed the evidence myself, it is clear to me that in what was a split second, the officer saw that a failure to act would have jeopardized the life of a two-year-old child. You know, again, I think that the real important question will be that—and again, this taking place in the midst of our efforts to define police reform—is what, if anything, could have been done different than having police respond? And that, as I said previously, is a hard question to ask and answer.

SG: Mayor of Oneonta Gary Herzig, thanks so much for joining us on WSKG.

GH: Thank you, Sarah.