Buffalo Police Officers Joseph Acquino and Justin Tedesco stopped Jose Hernandez-Rossy's vehicle Sunday after spotting him smoking a marijuana blunt while driving, Acquino told investigators.
During a struggle that ensued, Acquino felt what he suspected was a handgun when he placed his hand on Hernandez-Rossy’s front pocket, the officer told investigators, according to two sources.
Acquino's interview with investigators Wednesday was his first official statement about what happened during the fatal encounter in Black Rock that ended with Hernandez-Rossy's death. Tedesco, who fired the fatal gunshots, has not yet given a statement to investigators.
After stopping Hernandez-Rossy's 2011 Acura MDX, both officers approached the vehicle on the driver's side, and Acquino was the closest, from two law enforcement sources. When Hernandez-Rossy would not show his hands, Acquino reached into his vehicle because he thought Hernandez-Rossy was going for a gun, the officer told investigators.
As Acquino and Hernandez-Rossy struggled inside the vehicle, Hernandez-Rossy stepped on the gas and the SUV hit the side of the officers' marked patrol car, narrowly missing a child on a minibike and crashed into the foundation of a house at Garfield Street and Hartman Place, according to two sources.
The car's airbag deployed when it hit the house, and Tedesco caught up to the vehicle and entered it through the passenger side, according to two sources.
The struggle continued on the sidewalk but Acquino's ear had been nearly severed from his head and he shouted that he had been shot. In his statement to investigators Wednesday, Acquino said he was shot.
Hernandez-Rossy got free from Tedesco and fled on foot, one of the sources said. Tedesco then fired three shots, fatally wounding him, according to witnesses and law enforcement sources.
Hernandez-Rossy, 26, collapsed and died after running several blocks through backyards.
These new details about the fatal shooting – the first by a Buffalo police officer in 4 1/2 years – were provided Thursday to The Buffalo News by three sources, including law enforcement.
Nelson Torre, the lawyer for Hernandez-Rossy’s mother and sisters, said the police narrative of what happens keeps changing.
"The lack of clarity is troubling,” he said.
"None of the witnesses at the scene, including his partner, saw a gun," Torre said of Acquino. "Feeling a bulge … is a lot different than thinking you got shot by an air bag deployment."
He said police initially said the shooting followed a routine traffic stop, but now are saying they saw Hernandez-Rossy smoking marijuana.
"A routine car stop to me meant passing a stop sign or not using a blinker. Smoking a blunt would not constitute a routine traffic stop. That's a drug stop," Torre said. "And that's different than what the officers originally said. And that creates more questions than answers.
"What are we, on our fourth rendition of the facts to account for an unarmed man being shot in the back at least half a block away?" Torre said.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn previously has said there is significant question as to whether Hernandez-Rossy was armed.
And the state Attorney General's Office has taken over the investigation to determine if Hernandez-Rossy was armed, what caused Acquino's injury and whether the fatal shooting was justified.
Torre said he is grateful the State Attorney General’s Office is now involved.
Police initially said Acquino was shot in the ear by Hernandez-Rossy, but their searches for a gun in the Black Rock neighborhood were unsuccessful.
During the confrontation with Hernandez-Rossy, Tedesco did not see a gun in the suspect’s possession, according to attorney Thomas H. Burton, who represents the police officers.
Burton said the officer was justified in using deadly force because his partner had shouted he was shot and his bleeding ear was dangling from the side of his head.
Hernandez-Rossy's sister told The Buffalo News there's "no justification" because her brother was unarmed.
Here are new details the sources provided:
- Tedesco was driving a marked patrol vehicle with Acquino as the passenger. They spotted Hernandez-Rossy driving with a window open smoking what appeared to be a marijuana blunt. After they forced the vehicle to a stop by passing it and diagonally pulling in front of it, they detected the pungent odor of the marijuana.
- Investigators have possession of both Tedesco and Acquino’s handguns, and Acquino’s gun was not fired.
- A large quantity of heroin, estimated at more than 100 bags, was recovered from the scene after Hernandez-Rossy was shot.
Torre said that if drugs were found in Hernandez-Rossy's vehicle, it doesn't provide justification for police shooting him.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda referred all questions regarding the investigation to the Attorney General’s Office. He said the AG requested that because the state office has taken over the investigation.
Burton said Tedesco is receiving physical therapy for injuries suffered in the struggle.