BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – A grand jury opted not to indict a Clarkstown police officer in the fatal shooting of Vincent Cordaro, 58, during a tense standoff on February 8.
The Rockland County District Attorney’s Office announced on Thursday that the 23-member grand jury had heard testimony from both prosecutors engaged in an independent investigation and eyewitnesses to the incident. After deliberating, they returned a “No True Bill,” meaning they found no cause to charge the officer with a crime.
“[The grand jury] determined that the officer had an honest and reasonable belief that Mr. Cordaro was about to use or was threatening to use deadly physical force against him when he shot Mr. Cordaro,” The DA’s investigative report read. “The Grand Jury has found the officer’s actions in using deadly physical force against Vincent Cordaro to be justified.”
The incident-in-question occurred shortly before 7:16 p.m. on February 8 when one of the suspect’s family members told police that Cordaro, who was highly intoxicated and in an agitated state, threatened a family member at his house with a shotgun and warned he would shoot at any police officer who approached the residence.
Police responded by setting up a perimeter and attempting to negotiate with Cordaro, who periodically fired shots from a second-story rear window with a high-power rifle. At one point, a shot struck another residence, prompting police to inform neighboring residents to hunker down to avoid gunfire.
Though Cordaro did agree to let another tenant leave the house, talks broke down shortly after 11:30 p.m., prompting police to flush Cordaro out with tear gas. In response, Cordaro opened fire on officers, getting off two shots before a marksman on Clarkstown’s Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) responded by firing a single shot to Cordaro’s neck, killing him.
An autopsy conducted by the Rockland County Medical Examiner later found that the trajectory of the fatal shot suggested Cordaro was bent out the window at the time, possibly in a firing position. The Examiner also reported Cordaro, who had severe depression and issues with alcoholism, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.265, over three times the legal limit for driving.
Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan commended the decision, emphasizing that his office had been “forthright and transparent” in its cooperation with the DA’s investigation, but also recognized the gravity and human toll of the incident.
“This is an action that no officer ever wants to take, but it is part of the immense responsibilities we carry in law enforcement,” Sullivan said in a public statement. “Our concerns are and remain for the well being and future of both the Cordaro family and the officers involved in this incident.”
Police-related shootings are relatively rare in Rockland, but do occur. Before the standoff with Cordaro, the last-reported fatal shooting by a police officer occurred in December 2011 when Herve Gilles was shot in the head by Spring Valley Officer John Roper after the suspect reportedly wrested a nightstick from another Spring Valley officer and used it to attack the other cop. Roper was cleared of civil and criminal responsibility, but not before the incident sparked protests in the village.