An investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office issued Thursday finds no evidence of wrongdoing in the death of Gerard Roldan III of Cobleskill, who was struck and killed by a Cobleskill Police car on November 9, 2018.
“The tragic death of Gerard Roldan is heartbreaking to his family and loved ones,” Attorney General Letitia James said following the year-long investigation by the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit into the 26-year-old Cobleskill man’s death.
“To the family of Mr. Roldan, we offer our deepest condolences and hope that this report brings them some degree of closure.”
The AG’s investigation came at the request of Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery; Ms. Mallery’s husband, Steven Winegard, is a member of the Cobleskill PD.
Then-Cobleskill Police Chief Rich Bialkowsi had also requested an independent investigation by State Police.
“After a thorough and comprehensive investigation, SIPU found no evidence of wrongdoing by Patrolman [Christopher] Sniffen,” Attorney General James said in a press release, “and deemed the matter a tragic accident.”
According to the report: Patrolman Sniffen was driving eastbound on Route 7 in the village shortly before 10pm near Trestle Lane.
Light rain was falling and there was very little traffic. The road is lit.
A Jeep with a Pizza Hut sign mounted on its roof passed Patrolman Sniffen’s vehicle headed west, and the radar device in his vehicle indicated that the Jeep was traveling faster than 40mph; the speed limit there is 30mph.
In his mirror, Patrolman Sniffen observed the Jeep run a red light.
Intending to stop the Jeep, Patrolman Sniffen proceeded a short distance and then made a U-turn, increasing his own speed to 53 to 63mph, but didn’t turn on his lights or siren, investigators said.
Another CPD officer, Patrolman Cody Whittaker, was also on Route 7 and had also been passed by the Pizza Hut Jeep.
While he didn’t have a radar device in his vehicle, he too believed the Jeep was speeding, investigators said, and via car-to-car radio, Patrolman Whittaker asked if Patrolman Sniffen would be going after the Jeep.
Shortly after passing through the same light the Jeep had run, “Patrolman Sniffen’s vehicle struck Mr. Roldan,” who was dressed in a black knit cap, gray sweatshirt, black pants, and brown boots, who had apparently been crossing the roadway and was not in a crosswalk.
“Patrolman Sniffen had not seen Mr. Roldan until just before striking him…[he says that] Mr. Roldan appeared so suddenly that he had no time either to take evasive measures or even apply the brakes before striking Mr. Roldan.”
Immediately, Patrolman Sniffen stopped his vehicle, radioed to dispatch that he had struck a pedestrian, called for an ambulance, and then finding no pulse, began performing CPR on Mr. Roldan.
A firefighter who lived nearby and heard the incident come over his personal scanner arrived at the scene and took over the lifesaving efforts.
Paramedics arrived approximately seven minutes after the collision and determined that Mr. Roldan was in cardiac arrest.
Mr. Roldan was transported to Cobleskill Regional Hospital, arriving at about 10:20pm.
Doctors there performed advanced life-saving protocols, but were unable to revive Mr. Roldan, who was pronounced dead at 10:50pm.
An autopsy conducted November 11, 2018 at the Albany Medical Center identified the cause of death as “multiple severe traumatic blunt force injuries.”
“Patrolman Sniffen may arguably be faulted for driving substantially above the speed limit without activating his lights and sirens when he struck and killed Mr. Roldan,” investigators wrote.
“However, [he] was not impaired by drugs or alcohol, distracted by a cell phone, or engaged in otherwise blameworthy conduct.
“Mr. Roldan was in a part of the roadway not marked for pedestrian crossing, and was wearing clothing that greatly minimized his visibility.
“Under New York law, Patrolman Sniffen’s conduct did not rise to the level of criminal culpability.
“For this reason, the OAG has determined that criminal charges are not appropriate in this matter.”
The OAG, however, suggested “the danger associated with Patrolman Sniffen’s speeding” might have been mitigated if he had activated his lights and siren.
The CPD has since changed its policy to reflect that.