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Grand jury clears Niagara Falls officer in drug-raid shooting

LOCKPORT – Niagara Falls Police Officer Thomas Rodgers will not face charges for shooting a suspect during a Sept. 28 drug raid.

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek announced Thursday that a county grand jury voted not to indict Rodgers.

The grand jury heard from 14 witnesses over two days earlier this month, she said. The Buffalo News learned the witnesses included Stacey M. Lewis, the man shot by Rodgers. Lewis pleaded guilty to two felonies without waiting for a grand jury to consider his own case.

"After listening to and asking questions of all the witnesses and reviewing all the evidence, the grand jury determined there is no legal basis to charge Thomas Rodgers with any crimes," Wojtaszek said.

"The proof is in the pudding, as we were confident it would be," said Thomas H. Burton, who is Rodgers' attorney. "The officer's conduct was lawful under New York's justification statute."

Rodgers had previously been cleared by an internal Niagara Falls Police Department investigation.

Stacey M. Lewis

Lewis, 33, was shot once in the abdomen after police battered down a steel door while executing a search warrant at 488 20th St. Before entering, officers saw Lewis through a window as he ran upstairs with what appeared to be a rifle in his hands.

A later search of the house turned up a knock-off version of an AK-47 assault rifle in a second-floor bedroom and several bags of crack cocaine, totaling 4.67 ounces, throughout the house.

Police said Lewis didn't respond to demands to show his hands as he was partially concealed behind a wall. An open box cutter was found beside him after he was shot. Relatives of Lewis contended in interviews after the shooting that it was not justified.

"This guy is not exactly a candidate for Chamber of Commerce president," Burton said.

Lewis has been to state prison twice before on drug felonies. He pleaded guilty Dec. 6 to two more felonies, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and attempted fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, in exchange for a promise of a sentence of no more than four years in prison.

Lewis' sentencing has been postponed twice by Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III. It is now scheduled for March 16.

Rodgers was the first officer to enter the house, Burton said.

"It takes a special person to go through a door after seeing a convicted felon with an assault rifle in his hands seconds before, and not shirk his duty. It doesn't get more extreme than that," Burton said.

Rodgers has been on paid administrative leave since the incident. Niagara Falls Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto said that will change in view of the grand jury ruling.

"He'll go back on duty immediately," DalPorto said.

Lewis has filed a notice of claim against the city, threatening to file a lawsuit over the shooting.

Second Assistant District Attorney Mary Jean Bowman and Peter M. Wydysh, chief of the DA's Narcotics Bureau, presented the evidence to the grand jury, Wojtaszek said. She said besides the testimony, the grand jury saw 44 photographs, medical reports and other documents before voting not to indict Rodgers.

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