Elmira police officer cleared of assault charges for death in custody
A Chemung County Court jury cleared an Elmira police officer of charges related to the 2019 death of a Southside man.
The jury deliberated for just an hour Tuesday afternoon at the end of the trial before finding Constable Eduardo Oropallo not guilty of two counts – second-degree assault and attempted second-degree assault – in connection with August 22, 2019, death of Gary Strobridge.
The incident occurred when Elmira police officers responded to a residence on Horner Street in the city to report an emotionally disturbed person.
Police say Strobridge, 47, resisted arrest and had to deploy a Taser before being arrested.
Law enforcement reports said Strobridge then physically attacked a police officer while he was receiving treatment at a local hospital and had to be subdued again.
During the struggle at the hospital, Strobridge suddenly became limp and unresponsive, police said.
He was taken to a hospital in Syracuse, where he later died.
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The state attorney general’s office took over the investigation into Strobridge’s death under a 2015 executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo giving that agency jurisdiction to investigate cases where an unarmed civilian dies. during a meeting with the police.
The Attorney General’s office obtained an indictment that when the second fight took place in the emergency department of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Oropallo intentionally slammed Strobridge’s face into the ground, causing him serious harm. wounds.
Oropallo’s attorney, Ray Schlather of Ithaca, said the evidence in the case clearly indicates the officers responded appropriately.
“The trial evidence, including the testimonies of several hospital witnesses, confirmed the need and urgency for the police to bring the sudden eruption of violence against the deceased within the hospital setting under control,” Schlather said. .
“Frankly, it seems the attorney general went too far in this case,” he said. “If all the available evidence had been shared with the grand jury, I doubt Officer Oropallo would have been charged.”
Schlather added that he recognizes “the understandable pain” the Strobridge family suffered after the 2019 incident.
This sentiment was echoed by the Elmira Police Benevolent Association, which nonetheless applauded the jury’s decision to exonerate Oropallo.
“Clearly, justice has been served for our member who was wrongfully accused and had to endure 2 and a half years of turmoil at the hands of the New York State Attorney General’s office,” said the president of the PBA, Brooks Shaw, in a statement.
Attorney General Letitia James’ office released a brief statement Wednesday in response to the verdict.
“While the Attorney General is disappointed with the verdict, she thanks the jury for their diligent service and attention to the evidence,” the statement said.
In September 2020, Strobridge’s family filed a lawsuit against the City of Elmira and the Elmira Police Department in federal court.
The complaint alleged that numerous officers used excessive force and were negligent in their treatment of Strobridge while he was in the throes of a mental health crisis.
That lawsuit is moving forward, with a pretrial conference scheduled for May 12, according to Buffalo attorney James VanDette, one of two attorneys representing Strobridge’s family in the action.
VanDette said it is rare for police officers to be held criminally responsible for their actions and that the outcome of the trial will have no impact on the civil case.
“We are really disappointed with the outcome of the verdict,” said VanDette, who said the family had no further comment at this time.
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