State Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the shooting death last month of an East Northport man by Suffolk County police after authorities say he pointed what turned out to be a pellet gun at officers.
The victim's father said police knew before coming to their home that Jeffrey McClure, 26, had an unloaded pellet gun. Donald McClure said he told 911 and officers who arrived at his Grant Street home on the evening of June 7 that his son was troubled and needed psychiatric help.
But the situation quickly escalated, and 17 minutes after police arrived, Jeffrey McClure took a ladder to the roof of his family's home, where he pointed what authorities said appeared to be a hunting rifle at officers and threatened to shoot them. Police opened fire and killed McClure, officials said.
Suffolk police declined to comment on how many shots were fired, if more than one officer opened fire, if the officers are still in the field, and the last time officers from the Second Precinct used lethal force.
Suffolk Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante said while officers initially believed McClure was armed with a nonlethal pellet gun, he later descended into the basement, where an assortment of hunting rifles were stored. When police opened fire, they had no way of knowing if McClure had switched out the pellet gun for a more dangerous weapon, Gigante said.
“The weapon looked like a real rifle to the officers,” Gigante said. “It is impossible when someone is a distance away and elevated on a roof to distinguish a facsimile type weapon from a real weapon.”
Donald McClure, a custodian at Northport High School, said he told responding officers that his gun safe was locked and that he had the only key in his pocket.
“I called for help and this is how they did it,” McClure said. “You are supposed to negotiate, but this was a trigger-happy cop.”
Gigante said while it's early in the investigation, "We have not found any deviation from policy” in terms of the department's use of force.
Suffolk procedure stipulates that an officer can discharge a firearm "when reasonable and necessary to defend an officer or another from what the officer reasonably believes to be the use, or imminent use, of deadly force."
Officers also can use deadly force, according to the January 2020 directive, if "the subject poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or another if not immediately apprehended."
Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president Noel DiGerolamo declined to comment on the specifics of the shooting or identify the officers involved.
“I am confident that our officer performed all of his duties in the most professional and appropriate manner possible, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further given the ongoing investigation,” said DiGerolamo, adding that the officer was represented by an attorney and would not comment during the investigation.
An AG spokeswoman confirmed James' office is investigating. A 2015 executive order signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo assigned the attorney general as special prosecutor in cases of unarmed civilians killed by law enforcement.
'He wanted help'
Jeffrey McClure had a difficult life filled with emotional issues, Donald McClure said.
As a youth, Jeffrey was bullied, his father said. He developed a bad temper, and medication failed to solve the problems, Donald McClure said, adding that his son dropped out of high school.
As he got older, Jeffrey’s emotions continued to fluctuate, and he had difficulty maintaining a job, a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, McClure said. Jeffrey would become depressed, easily triggered and was beginning to spiral, his father said.
On the night of the shooting, Jeffrey came home aggravated, intoxicated and was “going off,” McClure said.
“I asked police to take him to a psychiatric hospital, which my son was requesting, too,” McClure said, adding that his son had never previously been admitted to such a facility. “He knew things were going wrong inside his brain and he wanted help.”
When officers arrived at the home at 10:08 p.m., McClure said he and his wife Lynn told them Jeffrey had an unloaded pellet gun and no access to ammunition.
Moments after arriving, officers entered the home and encountered Jeffrey McClure. Accounts differ about what occurred next. Gigante said Jeffrey McClure pointed the pellet gun at officers, who moved out of the way and backed out of the home. Donald McClure said his son pointed the gun at the ceiling and never turned it on the officers.
Both sides agree that Jeffrey McClure then descended into the basement, where hunting rifles, handguns and ammunition are stored in a gun safe.
Gigante said Lynn McClure, who declined an interview request, informed the officers about the cache of weapons.
“At that point, because of the access of weapons downstairs, [officers] were no longer comfortable assuming it was that original gun,” Gigante said. “With the information we got from the mother, it changed the scenario significantly.”
Questions about gun safe access
Donald McClure disputes Gigante’s account, contending he told officers that Jeffrey could not access the safe.
“They knew he had no access to other guns and that the pellet gun was empty,” he said. “They were told two times that he could not get into the safe.”
Moments later, Jeffrey McClure entered the backyard and climbed a ladder to the roof, where he pointed a gun at the officers on the ground, Gigante said. McClure ignored repeated commands to drop the weapon, Gigante said, and police — working with a flashlight for light — fired multiple shots, killing him.
Donald McClure said he was on the phone with his oldest son, Dennis of Levittown, when he heard the shooting.
“All of a sudden I hear ‘bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,’ ” he said.
Officers later determined McClure never switched weapons, Gigante said.
Gigante defended the officers' handling of the shooting, noting the pellet gun was nearly indistinguishable from the rifle brandished by officers at the scene.
If officers were positive McClure was armed only with the pellet gun, they would have proceeded differently, Gigante said.
“The situation dictates how we handle it and the proximity if we can take cover,” he said. “If we know it’s not an actual shotgun or rifle, then it would mostly likely be handled differently, with different procedures in place, but there is no cookie-cutter way to handle an armed subject.”
Law enforcement experts said the weapon Jeffrey McClure was brandishing, with its black scope and muzzle flash, looks nothing like a pellet gun.
“It certainly doesn’t look like a pellet gun,” said Joe Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant.
Giacalone said officers could not rely solely on Donald McClure’s word that his son could not access the gun safe.
“I am not putting my life in danger based on what someone else told me,” said Giacalone, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “I need to make that determination. If somebody points a gun at me, I need to protect myself at that point.”