Rochester, N.Y. - On Monday, Felix Cruz Romero received a letter in the mail. It said a grand jury failed to indict him for what he and others have claimed all along was a shooting in the line of duty, and in self defense.
The letter was like a slap, a big “never mind,” for the last six months he has had to endure being charged with a felony crime.
“My life is destroyed now, I lost my reputation, I lost everything,” he said in an exclusive interview with 13WHAM News.
Cruz-Romero also spoke for the first time of the details of what happened June 17 outside the Gibbs Place apartments on Chestnut Street, where he had worked as a security guard for four months.
“I defend my life, I defend the lives of others,” he said, adding that he has replayed that night over and over in his head.
He was hired to provide security because of a slashing incident inside the rooming house one month earlier. He was keeping watch when he heard a commotion outside.
“The guy was obviously drunk,” said Robert Rogers, a witness. “He had a knife in his hand.”
Cruz Romero said when he tried to intervene, the man charged at him. “When the guy come (sic) with the knife to try to stab me, I used my self defense techniques,” he explained. “Everything come out good.”
Cruz Romero’s record in law enforcement fills a binder two inches thick. He's an expert in firearms, a trainer in defensive weapons tactics and a 9-11 responder.
“He’s not just an expert, he’s a teacher and he employed all of this that night,” said his attorney, Kristina Karle.
Romero says once he disarmed the assailant, he called police. Before the man left the area, he threatened to return with a gun. He came back a short time later carrying a duffle.
Felix: "He say he got the gun now. The other people next to me say he got the gun."
Reporter: "Did he put his hand in the bag?"
Felix: "He put his hand in the bag and he had something brown and he grabbed it."
“He said it was a pistol and he said he was going to shoot,” said Karle. “I think his exact words were that a black man was going to die tonight.”
“I gave him three warnings - drop the gun, drop the gun,” said Cruz Romero. “He avoided my warnings, so I needed to deploy my gun.”
Cruz Rivera said he feared for his life and the lives of the tenants cowering behind him.
Even as he shot his gun, the man continued to run toward him. He fired six shots. Two of them connected and the man dropped. He was not dead, but he was no longer a threat.
It turned out the weapon in the duffle was not a gun, but a hammer.
“My client believed it was a gun in that bag, that’s why he fired,” said Karle. “In my opinion, Felix is a hero and on that day he should have received a promotion, a medal, not handcuffs.”
Cruz Romero cooperated fully with the investigation, but was arrested and booked on felony assault charges. The case was not presented to a grand jury for six months.
In many shooting cases involving law enforcement, charges are not filed until after a grand jury hears the facts. That did not happen in this case and Karle wants to know why not.
Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley released the following statement saying, "Any time someone is seriously injured or killed in this community as the result of the use of deadly physical force, it is the duty of all law enforcement to consider the facts and circumstances of the case and to make decisions which are in the best interest of our community. Here, after Mr. Cruz-Romero was charged, my office completed its investigation and a full presentation of the events that led up to Mr. Cruz-Romero’s arrest was made to a grand jury. Ultimately the grand jury made a determination not to issue an indictment. The system worked as it was intended. As a result, Mr. Cruz-Romero has been absolved of any wrongdoing and is free of any criminal charges."
“I anticipate that there will be a response that the system worked… but, how do I give my client the last six months of his life back?” said Karle.
“I lose my job, I lose my pistol permit and my armed guard license,” Cruz Romero said. When asked about what is in his future he simply said, “I don’t know.”