Cops defend investigation of shooting case

Accused shooter Leon Clement is a free man because witnesses had “selective amnesia” of some near-fatal gunfire in Peekskill last year, a top Peekskill police officer said today.

Clement, a 27-year-old Peekskill man, was on trial for attempted murder and weapons charges after a 31-year-old Georgia man was almost killed in May 2008, when someone walked up to him as he sat in his car and fired a bullet into his chest.

A state judge threw out the case this week,¬†citing insufficient evidence that Clement was the shooter,¬†after hearing the prosecution’s case, including eyewitnesses testimony. Click here to read the story.

Today, Peekskill Lt. Eric Johansen defended the police investigation, saying detectives handed prosecutors a solid case, and that the District Attorney’s office prosecuted the case aggressively. The problem, he said, arose during the trial, when statements that witnesses gave police about Clement’s role in the shooting did not match their trial testimony. Even the victim suddenly had trouble remembering exactly what happened that night, he said.

“I don’t know if there was witness tampering,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate.”

Johansen said that Peekskill police, like other urban police departments, struggle with the “Stop Snitching” culture. He shared his frustration over T-shirts that say “Snitches get stitches” and over music that threatens violence against those who cooperate with police.

“It’s fear of retaliation because of the subculture of violence,” he said. “It’s not a police issue; it’s a community issue. We do everything in our power to keep the public safe.”