On January 30, retired Troy Police Chief John Tedesco published an opinion piece in the Troy Record defending the Troy Police Department in general, and Sgt. Randall French in particular, regarding the April 2016 incident in which French fatally shot motorist Edson Thevenin after a traffic stop. Tedesco’s piece countered recent criticism of the department’s handling of the homicide, notably from the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Albany Times Union columnist Chris Churchill.
Albany defense attorney Andrew Safranko, partner at LaMarche Safranko Law, echoed similar sentiments on the firm’s Facebook page. Safranko and Co. are intimately familiar with the case, having represented French.
“Thank you for setting the record straight, Chief Tedesco,” Safranko said. “Our office had the pleasure of representing Sgt. French. Anyone familiar with the facts of this case knows that Sgt. French’s actions were justified.”
At 3:26 a.m. on April 17, 2016, French tried to pull over Thevenin, whom he suspected of drunk driving. Thevenin—whose blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit—fled the scene, but crashed his Honda Civic near the Collar City Bridge. Two TPD cruisers blocked the Civic, and in the confrontation that followed, French fired eight rounds at Thevenin, killing him.
Much of the controversy in the case centers around the TPD’s handling of evidence and witnesses in the immediate aftermath, and around French’s testimony that he fired in self-defense, because Thevenin had accelerated into him, pinning him against his cruiser. Schneiderman’s office, completing a yearlong investigation of the homicide, concluded that criminal prosecution under state law would not be possible—because of an immunity agreement granted French by Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove—but was highly critical of the department, and contradicted some of its findings.
In a January 17, 2018, story on the AG report in the Times Union, Safranko—French’s attorney—said the attorney general’s special investigations and prosecutions unit, which issued the report, was formed to investigate the deaths of unarmed and innocent civilians.
“This is not the case here,” Safranko told the Times Union. “Clearly, Thevenin was not innocent, as he was fleeing from a lawful police stop that would have led to at a minimum an aggravated DWI charge and ultimately the loss of his license, based on his prior DWI history. DA’s offices routinely utilize a motor vehicle as a weapon when charging crimes.
“Randy French is a well-respected police officer,” Safranko continued. “And it is uncontroverted that his leg was pinned when he shot. A paid-for report cannot change that. Let me be clear: Sgt. French did nothing wrong. The report concedes that even if Sgt. French was not pinned … he was allowed to use self-defense and was justified in his actions.”
A Rensselaer County grand jury found no evidence of wrongdoing; Thevenin’s family is pursuing a civil action against the department.