Gueorgui Penev was suffering "acute intoxication of cocaine and LSD" and exhibiting "agitated, violent, self-injurious behavior" when he was fatally shot by a Fredonia officer Dec. 10, the Chautauqua County DA said Friday at a news conference held to announce the officer would not be charged.
Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick E. Swanson said Friday there was no evidence to support filing criminal charges against Officer Nathaniel Scriven, who shot and killed Penev, 23, known as George.
The District Attorney's Office Friday released video from Scriven's police body camera that showed the officer's confrontation with a bloody, shirtless George Penev, who, armed with a knife, appeared to be chasing Scriven in the snow. Penev ignored repeated orders by Scriven to drop the knife. The video shows Penev continuing to advance toward the officer even after being shot twice by Scriven. Penev fell to the ground after being shot two more times by the officer.
Officers were responding at the time to a non-emergency medical well-being check at an address on Liberty Street, where Penev had locked himself in a second-floor bathroom.
“Unbeknownst to the first responders, Mr. Penev was suffering acute intoxication of cocaine and LSD and exhibiting altered state, with agitated, violent, self-injurious behavior,” Swanson said.
When Scriven arrived, Penev burst from the bathroom door and attempted to assault the officer, Swanson said.
“Mr. Penev chased Officer Scriven out of the residence, across the yard and down the adjacent property’s driveway before Officer Scriven was left with no choice but to fire his weapon. When he fired the first two shots, Mr. Penev was just feet away, knife still in hand," Swanson said. "Mr. Penev stumbled, but continued to chase the officer, who fired two more shots as Mr. Penev continued to advance. The encounter then ended.”
Swanson added that "Nothing in our investigation suggests that [Penev's] actions that day were consistent with his character. By all accounts, Mr. Penev was a well-liked young man. He had caring parents. He worked for his family business."
Swanson said toxicology reports showed Penev had cocaine, LSD and other narcotics in his system. An examination revealed numerous minor and major force injuries to Penev's head, neck, chest and upper body, injuries that would have proven fatal absent the shooting, officials said.
“The incident that day highlights the unexpected dangers police officers regularly confront," Swanson said. "It highlights how a routine call can turn into something far more serious in an instant.”
Swanson said the footage of the incident secured from Scriven's body camera was vital in helping exonerate the officer.
“The body camera footage that he was wearing that day captured 95 percent of what happened,” he said.
He said the shooting was investigated by his office, with assistance from Fredonia Police and the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office, including interviews with more than 20 witnesses – among them Scriven, other police personnel, emergency responders, medical examiners and civilians before authorities determined that Scriven was not liable in Penev's death.
"My ethical obligations prohibit me from laying charges where there is no probable cause to support them. There is no evidence to support any charges against Officer Scriven," Swanson said. "His actions were both lawful and appropriate. We are closing this case."
Information uncovered during the investigation led to the arrest Friday of a SUNY Fredonia College student, Amanda Bridges, of Erie County, who is accused of supplying narcotics to Penev.
Swanson said Bridges was charged with the criminal sale of a controlled substance and criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell.
Fredonia Police Chief Bradley C. Meyers said the LSD found in Penev's system is a narcotic that Fredonia police officers do not confront as often as crystal meth and heroin. Meyers said that the drug house from which the narcotics came that were allegedly sold to Penev was not on the radar of Fredonia police. "This particular house was not on our radar as a house that was selling drugs on a regular basis," Meyers said.
Swanson said Penev's family was aware of the details in the district attorney's report. "I wanted to keep them abreast of our progress throughout this," Swanson said.
In an interview with The Buffalo News a couple of weeks after the shooting, Penev's father, Pete of Cowlesville in Wyoming County, described his son as "just a guy who needed medical help," and offered the view at the time that the police may have overreacted.
Penev worked for his family's trucking company, helping to arrange logistics. His Facebook page indicated he graduated from Iroquois High School and studied at Erie Community College.