Johnson City officer killed by his own weapon Monday morning; suspect dead
Tragic news emerged out of Johnson City, N.Y. the morning of March 31, 2014 as an 18 and a half year veteran of the city's police force responded to a disturbance at Southern Tier Imaging and was shot with his own weapon when he arrived. According to Johnson City Police Chief Joseph Zikuski, Johnson City Police Officer David Smith, age 43, arrived at the Harrison Street health service building and was immediately attacked by the suspect, 43-year old James Clark of Greene, N.Y.
A struggle ensued, according to witnesses that investigators talked to at the scene, and it was determined that James Clark attacked Officer David Smith before he even got out of his police car, managed to pull the officer's 40 caliber weapon from its holster, and then shots began firing. Officer David Smith died from multiple gunshot wounds, and the suspect, James Clark, was shot by a second officer that arrived on the scene. James Clark was taken to Wilson Hospital for surgery, but died from his injuries.
In a press conference held at 2 p.m. on Monday, Zikuski discussed the timeline of events, and what the impact of the tragic death of one of their officers will have on its fellow members. With flags already hung at half-staff at the nearby Johnson City Police Station, Zikuski described the following.
Suspect James Clark arrived at his job at Southern Tier Imaging Monday morning, and workers who were later interviewed said that there was something wrong with him. At approximately 7 a.m. a call from a male arrived to the police department of a disturbed male at Southern Tier Imaging. A second call arrived later, this time from a female.
One of the callers stated that James Clark was acting 'disturbed,' was blocking access for employees to gain entry into the building, and even talked of a bomb somewhere. These initial reports prompted response from Endicott's bomb squad. Later, Zikuski confirmed that there was no such explosive found anywhere inside the building.
Johnson City Police responded to the call at 7:03 a.m., and by 7:06 a.m., there was a report of shots fired. According to initial investigation at the scene and interviews with witnesses, Zikuski concluded that upon Officer David Smith's arrival there was a male in front of the Southern Tier Imaging Building on Harrison Street who was waving his hands, and yelling.
Before Officer David Smith could even get out of his patrol car, the suspect leaned into it and was able to grab the officer's weapon. Officer David Smith got out of the car, according to Zikuski, and James Clark shot him once, dropping him to the ground, and then shot him two more times.
A second officer who was arriving at the scene returned fire on James Clark.
"Everything happened in a matter of minutes," said Zikuski during a press conference held later on Monday. A full evacuation during the time of the incident was also ordered of 30 and 22 Harrison Street, which are both medical buildings.
Officer David Smith was pronounced dead from his injuries, while the suspect, James Clark, was transported immediately into surgery. The suspect was pronounced dead in the operating room at 10:22 a.m., according to Zikuski, who also noted that the hospital was just doing what they do, which is trying to save lives.
The investigation that ensued at the crime scene left many clues, but few answers. According to Zikuski, Officer David Smith's weapon holds 15 rounds; all were used.
As for a motive, there are even fewer answers. According to Zikuski, early investigations revealed that James Clark, of 132 Turner St. in Greene, N.Y., appeared normal when he left his home that morning to go to work at Southern Tier Imaging, the place where he was employed for approximately five to six years.
It was what happened upon his arrival to work that stunned co-workers, and led to the chain of events that ended in tragedy.
Witnesses that worked with James Clark stated they were shocked. "They told us he was a model employee," Zikuski described of the witness statements during the press conference.
With the exception of a drunken driving incident over ten years ago, Clark had no prior issues with the law or mental health.
Investigators will be returning to the home of James Clark with a warrant to search for more answers, to include a look at his computer.
Autopsies and toxicology reports are being performed, and according to Zikuski could take up to two weeks.
As for what is next for the Johnson City Police Department, Zikuski solemnly stated, "Where do we go from here? We bury a cop."
Already, the flags at the Johnson City Police Department were hung at half-staff. Upon news of Officer David Smith's death, Governor Andrew Cuomo also issued a statement that offered his condolences
"I was deeply saddened to learn that Officer David Wayne Smith was killed in the line of duty today," said Governor Cuomo in his statement. He continued, "Officer Smith was a 19-year veteran of the Johnson City police force. We are deeply grateful for his service and extend our heartfelt condolences to Officer Smith's family, friends and fellow officers."
Zikuski described Officer David Smith as a well-trained officer, who never stood a chance. "He opened the door, and he was attacked."
Officer David Smith was married with one child. Services for the fallen officer are expected to be announced in the coming days.