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No charges in police shooting on Barrington Street

Police officers standing amid yellow caution tape
Max Schulte
Multiple law enforcement agencies investigate two vehicles on Vassar Street near Park Avenue, in connection with the officer involved shooting on Barrington Street where a man was killed when officers tried to apprehend him Monday, March 20, 2023.

No charges will be filed in the fatal shooting of Brendon Burns by Rochester police officers and Monroe County Sheriff deputies.

That determination was laid out in a report released Friday by the Office of the New York state Attorney General.

The report said that police shot at Burns, 35, three separate times during a March 20 foot chase around the Park Avenue neighborhood, initially striking him in the back as he fled. In the third confrontation he pointed a shotgun at officers, was struck by at least 10 rounds, and killed.

A statement from the Attorney General’s office said it would not pursue charges because its investigation determined that prosecutors couldn’t prove that the shooting was unjustified. The Attorney General’s Office is required to perform an investigation anytime a person is shot by a police officer.

“When the defense of justification is raised at trial, the prosecution must disprove justification beyond a reasonable doubt,” the statement reads. “In this case, Mr. Burns, who was under investigation for his involvement in two prior shootings, assembled a shotgun and then pointed it at multiple officers after refusing commands to drop the weapon.”

Attorney Nate McMurray, who is representing Burns’s family in civil litigation, said the actions of the officers that morning is a cause for concern.

“The police shot an unarmed man in the back by their own admission,” McMurray said. “That should trouble everyone in Rochester.”

Officers had confronted Burns over his alleged involvement in a string of incidents. Those included firing a shotgun into a Monroe Avenue smoke shop the previous night, a road rage incident that morning in Brighton in which he shot at another car, and leading officers on a high-speed chase on Interstate 490.

According to the report:

Police approached Burns outside of his mother’s home at 5 Milburn St., where he lived. Burns pulled out a hunting knife as he fled but officers thought it was a handgun.

Deputy Clayton Hillegeer fired two shots at Burns, hitting him once in the upper back.

Hillegeer then began a foot chase, where Deputy Alexandra Baker opened the door of her unmarked police vehicle in an attempt to knock Burns down. Baker got out of her car and fired two more shots at Burns.

During these two shootings, Burns was hit at least once in the back but continued through the neighborhood.

In body-worn camera footage released by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, multiple deputies and RPD officers can be seen following him. Burns reached a silver Honda Accord in the driveway at 5 Milburn St. and retrieved a black duffel bag from the back seat then continued through several backyards. Monroe County Sheriff Sgt. Christopher DeVinney, dressed in tactical gear with a tactical rifle, repeatedly yelled at Burns to put his hands up.

As Burns made his way through another yard, DeVinney could be heard trying to negotiate with Burns.

“Listen to me buddy, what’s your name?” he said. “We just want to talk to you, okay? We just want to talk to you.”

In the backyard of a home on Barrington Street, Burns dropped the duffel bag and retrieved a break-action shotgun, which he began to assemble. In the video, officers can be heard repeatedly telling Burns to drop the gun. Burns loaded, cocked, and aimed the shotgun at the officers, prompting DeVinney, Deputy Alexandra Baker, RPD officer William Baker, and RPD Sgt. Kevin Leckinger to open fire.

Officers recovered a shotgun, a box of ammunition, and a knife at the scene, according to the report.

A medical examiner’s report from March 21 determined Burns was shot in the neck, chest, stomach, back, both arms, both hands, buttock, and right leg. He was struck by rounds from a .223-caliber rifle, a .45-caliber handgun, and a 9mm handgun.

The report’s release comes days after another deadly police shooting.

On Dec. 24, Todd Novick, 46, was fatally shot in the back after a brief foot chase on Murray Street in northwest Rochester. Novick had removed a handgun, later determined to be a pellet gun, from his pants during the chase.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.