NIAGARA FALLS – A State Supreme Court jury will decide next week whether Niagara County Sheriff’s Lt. Cory T. Diez and former Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein are liable for damages in the shooting of a man eight years ago.
Diez testified Friday that he shot Michael J. Rew because Rew turned on him with a shotgun as Diez entered the screened-in front porch of Rew’s home in the Cayuga Village mobile home park in the Town of Niagara. Rew, who was shot once in the stomach, testified Thursday that he was “passed out” from a long night of heavy drinking and remembers only being shot.
Justice Ralph A. Boniello III, who is presiding over the trial, dismissed Rew’s damage suit in 2012, but it was reinstated by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in 2014.
Rew, now 48, said he’s lost track of the number of abdominal surgeries he’s undergone since the shooting. He was arrested at the time for menacing a police officer. A grand jury indicted him, but the indictment was dismissed on a technicality, and a second grand jury refused to indict Rew again.
Attorneys in the lawsuit said if the jury finds any fault for the shooting lies on the deputy’s side, there will be a second trial with a new jury on the question of how much Rew will be paid in damages. If the jury finds the situation was all Rew’s fault, the case is over, except for any appeals that may ensue.
The incident occurred between 5:20 and 5:30 a.m. Nov. 11, 2007. That Sunday morning, Paul Quarantillo, who was helping his mother with her newspaper delivery route, dropped off a paper at the Rew home and saw a man sitting in the porch, slumped forward in a chair with his chin on his chest and a shotgun on the floor beside him. The porch light was on, but the man didn’t respond to any of Quarantillo’s verbal attempts to get his attention. He reported the situation to his mother, who called 911.
Diez, who was then a patrol deputy, said he assumed from what he heard from the dispatcher – a case of an unresponsive man with a gun – that he was going to check out a possible suicide. He parked near the trailer and approached the house with a first aid kit and a portable heart defibrillator.
But he said he changed his approach when he saw the man moving around inside the porch. He put down the medical gear and unholstered his gun instead.
“I saw someone bending down to where a weapon possibly was,” Diez testified. “As I was opening the door, he had a weapon in his hand.”
Leaving the witness stand, he picked up Rew’s shotgun and demonstrated for the jury a fast whirl that ended with the shotgun leveled at a target. He said he was justified in thinking he was about to be shot.
Sheriff James R. Voutour, who was Diez’ patrol captain in 2007, testified Friday, “I’m suggesting he acted very appropriately, the same way I would have reacted … What if the guy walking around was a suspect who just shot the person unresponsive in the chair?”
It turned out that Rew’s shotgun was not loaded. In fact, it wasn’t even operable, because neither of the detachable barrels was connected to it.
Rew testified he had just bought the gun in anticipation of a hunting trip. That night, he went to Players, a Niagara Falls bar, and downed six to eight beers in less than five hours. A friend drove him home after a stop at McDonald’s for some nourishment. Rew arrived home about 4 a.m. and got into an argument with his mother, now deceased, about his drinking and her dislike of guns.
He said he grabbed the new shotgun and went out to the porch to smoke, eat and fiddle with the gun.
“A night full of drinking, a belly full of gut-rot McDonald’s. I leaned back and passed out,” Rew told the jury. “The next thing I remember is being woken up by a gunshot, and a hand pointing a gun at me, and me saying, ‘Why’d you shoot me?’ … The next thing I remember is waking up in ICU.”