Mere seconds after he entered the first-floor apartment off Dewitt Avenue, Sgt. Darryl Mallard had to make one of the toughest decisions a police officer can make.
Julio Colon, 40, was pointing a knife at another man already bleeding through his shirt. When Mallard and two other officers entered the room, Colon lunged at his alleged victim.
Mallard acted decisively, firing a single shot from his weapon that struck Colon in the chest. The decorated veteran of 10 years on the force shot twice more when the wounded man tried to turn his knife on police.
Colon later died at Ellis Hospital, but the 23-year-old man he injured survived and was released Friday from Ellis’ McClellan campus.
City police are conducting an investigation into the shooting, but preliminary results suggest Mallard was justified in pulling the trigger. Ed Ritz, president of the Schenectady Police Benevolent Association, said the sergeant’s decisiveness under extreme duress may have saved lives.
“As soon as that door swung open, he was given a situation and he had to make a decision,” Ritz said Friday. “He made the right decision, and it was a difficult one. I give him a lot of credit.”
A pattern of violence apparently already existed between Colon and his victim, who was his domestic partner. Schenectady police broke up a violent fight between the two men at the Days Inn during the early morning hours of March 3.
Responding officers found the unidentified victim with swelling around his face and a cut above his eye — injuries sustained during a domestic dispute. Investigators later determined Colon, who was found to have a small bag of methamphetamine, refused to let his partner leave a room at the hotel by repeatedly shoving him back from the door. He also struck and bit the man during the fracas, according to court documents.
Colon was taken into custody and his victim requested a full stay-away order of protection. Colon ultimately pleaded guilty to drug possession, was handed a 30-day sentence and released from the Schenectady County jail on March 22, after being given 10 days off his sentence for good behavior. He left 19 days after he arrived.
Police Chief Brian Kilcullen declined to discuss the probe into Thursday’s shooting. He said Mallard is off-duty until Sunday, and the department will determine then whether he’s ready to return to work.
“It certainly has a potential to have a psychological impact on an officer,” he said. “How the event itself impacts an individual is unique to that individual.”
Ritz knows the feeling. In 2009, he was faced with a similar decision when a knife-wielding man attempting to carjack two vehicles, then menaced several people on State Street.
James Tomlin, 25, repeatedly refused police demands to drop the knife and periodically swung it to keep officers away. After police made several attempts to disarm the man, Tomlin, knife in hand, began moving aggressively toward Ritz, who fired two fatal shots.
Though the shooting was later ruled justified, Ritz still sometimes wonders if there was something he could have done differently. He said using deadly force is the last thing any officer wants in a situation.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “Nobody wants to take another person’s life. You’re constantly questioning whether there was another avenue to be taken.”
But in Mallard’s case, Ritz said there clearly wasn’t. He said the sergeant handled a high-stress situation quickly and adeptly.
“I give him a ton of credit,” he said.
Mallard joined the force in 2003 and was quickly faced with a tough decision on the job. After just 11 weeks on the force, he was confronted with a gun while pursuing James Hamilton, then a 39-year-old State Street man who had robbed cash from a drawer at the YWCA on Washington Avenue.
Mallard didn’t know Hamilton was armed as he started a foot pursuit, but as he rounded the corner at Ferry and Liberty streets, he encountered Hamilton with the loaded handgun pointed at him.
When Mallard didn’t shoot, Hamilton ran across the street, threw his gun down and surrendered. Mallard had his weapon unholstered when he rounded the corner, but used restraint when he encountered the man who police later realized was trying to get officers to shoot him —a phenomenon some law enforcement agents refer to as “suicide by cop.”
“He did a really amazing job in a stressful situation,” then-Police Chief Michael Geraci said following the September 2003 incident. “By all accounts, he had the right to draw his weapon and fire his weapon to end the threat.”