A Suffolk County police officer who fatally shot a man in Manorville in 2021 will not face charges from the New York Attorney General’s Office of Special Investigation, according to a report released last week.
The investigation into the death of Jesse Bonsignore, 44, who had been sleeping in the back seat of a parked car on a residential street before the fatal encounter, determined a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting was justified.
The investigation included interviews with responding officers, a civilian at the scene who called 911 and a review of Ring camera video, crime scene evidence, photographs, radio transmission and ballistics testing, according to the attorney general’s report.
“Under New York’s justification law, a person may use deadly physical force to defend against the imminent use of deadly physical force by another,” a statement from Attorney General Letitia James’ office said.
The 14-page report describes in detail events that transpired the night of May 20, 2021 that led to the fatal confrontation between officer James Skidmore, a 20-year veteran of the SCPD, and Mr. Bonsignore, who was shot twice and died at the scene. Mr. Skidmore was not equipped with a body-worn camera and the report included a recommendation that the department implement its plan to outfit all uniformed officers with body-worn cameras “as soon as practicable.” A body-worn camera would have “greatly facilitated the investigation of this case and provided the public with greater transparency into the events,” the report says.
A resident of 67 Bauer Ave. called 911 after noticing Mr. Bonsignore lying in the back seat of a maroon sedan parked on the grass. Mr. Skidmore was the first officer at the scene. Mr. Bonsignore woke up screaming loudly when the officer knocked on the car’s window, the report says. The officer told him to calm down and tried to reassure him that he was not in trouble. Mr. Bonsignore stepped out of the car, ignoring the officer’s direction to stay inside, and threatened to kill the officer, saying “I know my rights. I’m going to kill you,” the report says.
The officer directed Mr. Bonsignore to place his hands on the vehicle, fearing for his safety based on the threats he was making as well as a folding knife visible on his waistband. The officer said he told Mr. Bonsignore he would place him in handcuffs after he reached for his knife. Mr. Bonsignore resisted and pulled his arms away and “continuously reached back for the police officer who was standing right behind him,” the report says. Mr. Bonsignore evaded the handcuffs and pushed backward off the car, causing the officer to stumble back and Mr. Bonsignore turned around and placed the officer in a bear hug. Mr. Skidmore attempted to reach his Taser but could not. The two fell to the ground and Mr. Bonsignore repeatedly reached for his knife, the report says.
Mr. Bonsignore pulled on the officer’s gun holster several times as they struggled on the ground. The officer said he drew his gun from his holster to keep it away from Mr. Bonsignore, who then grabbed the officer’s wrist of his gun hand. Mr. Skidmore fired one shot in the direction of Mr. Bonsignore’s torso. He fired a second shot toward the torso as he rose to a standing position.
The officer heard Mr. Bonsignore say “why” and then he stopped moving. Mr. Bonsignore was pronounced dead by a member of the Manorville Rescue Squad at about 11:06 p.m., less than 20 minutes after the officer first arrived at the scene.
Mr. Bonsignore’s daughter, Carmela Bonsignore, filed a federal wrongful death suit against the county, its police department and Mr. Skidmore earlier this year, alleging false arrest, excessive force, fabrication of evidence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit seeks $85 million in damages. The suit said Mr. Bonsignore worked as an Uber driver and was resting while parked lawfully in the street not far from his childhood home. The complaint states Mr. Bonsignore “struggled with mental health issues,” but was a “deeply religious” and moral man who was “opposed to violence.” The complaint does not say specifically that Mr. Bonsignore was working the night of the incident and police later told the media they believed he was living out of the car.