CLIFTON PARK Only a few minutes passed between the time state police arrived on Cardinal Court and when they shot Douglas Stewart III on Aug 6.
The 43-year-old man’s wife contacted authorities indicating that he was distraught and carrying a loaded .30 caliber lever-action rifle at their home. Upon arriving on the scene, troopers shot Stewart at least once as he stood on a pathway by the side of his residence.
Investigators now claim Stewart menaced the responding troopers — a felony charge that could land him up to seven years in prison. But his lawyer tells a far different account, claiming the troopers shot Stewart in the back only moments after arriving on the scene around 4:40 p.m.
“From all accounts, it appears the police were not there very long before they shot him,” said George Lamarche, Stewart’s defense attorney.
Stewart pleaded not guilty to one count of menacing a police officer during his arraignment from the back of an ambulance parked at Town Court on Monday. He was released after posting $50,000 bond, but committed by the court to a mental health unit at Saratoga Hospital.
Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III said the troopers found Stewart outside his residence with a rifle in his hands. He said they ordered him to put down the weapon, but he did not.
“Stewart displayed the rifle toward the officer, which placed the officer in imminent fear of death, serious physical injury or physical injury,” he said in a statement.
State Police Lt. Robert Poisson said the shooting remains under investigation. He said the responding troopers shot Stewart within minutes of arriving and that the distraught man managed to fire one round from his rifle, though it’s not clear whether he intended to pull the trigger.
Poisson said it’s possible Stewart fired the shot only because he flinched. He said it’s also possible the shot was fired after Stewart was struck by one of the trooper’s rounds.
“The continuing investigation will bear out all those details and facts,” he said. “Right now, its believed the round was not intended for a member of the state police.”
At the time of the shooting, just the troopers — both of whom have more than 10 years on the job — were with Stewart. Deputies from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department were clearing the house of any other occupants.
State police didn’t disclose how many times they shot Stewart. Lamarche said Stewart was struck at least twice and believes the shots hit him in the back.
“From all accounts, it appears police were not there very long before they shot him,” he said. “He was not looking to harm anyone. Certainly not the police and certainly not his wife.”
Lamarche said the charge is very vague and does not give a good description of how Stewart supposedly menaced the troopers.
“We believe the evidence is inconsistent with the theory that is being alleged by the state police right now,” he said.
Stewart was taken to Albany Medical Center Hospital following the shooting. Lamarche said he continues to receive treatment for his injuries.
“It was a crisis situation when the state police arrived,” he said. “Certainly, we are disappointed in the way this was handled.”