- Erie police charged Frank Adiutori, owner of Dee’s Cigar Store, with reckless endangerment for shooting a thief in 2016
- Case lingered on role for reasons such as pre-trial motions, COVID-19
- Erie County Common Plea Court Resolution in Prosecution-Defense Agreement
In August 2016, Frank C. Adiutori, owner of Dee’s Cigar Store, was charged with reckless endangerment for shooting a thief five times with a handgun. Shots rang out in the morning as the thief fled and fled past the famous Adiutori variety store at 1705 State St.
Adiutori, who will be 72 in November, has tried to have the case closed. He maintained that he had done nothing wrong, that no one had been hurt and that he was not putting anyone in danger.
“I got a little excited and fired a few bullets,” he said in court.
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office supported the case. Police in Erie said the endangerment charge took into account that Adiuti had unloaded a gun at the corner of the store in the East 17th and French Street neighborhood, which police described in the files arrest as a residential area with heavy traffic on French Street.
The charge remained intact as the case lingered on the role, due to pre-trial motions and COVID-19-related delays. Adiutori’s trial has been postponed up to 16 times, according to court records.
The unusually protracted case eventually ended, but in an unusual way: without conviction for Adiutori.
The district attorney’s office refused to completely withdraw the charge of reckless endangerment as a second degree misdemeanor, but reduced the charge to disorderly conduct as a third degree misdemeanor and allowed Adiutori not to dispute.
The district attorney’s office also had no objection to Adiutori not receiving any punishment – a result the office worked out with Adiutori’s attorney, Gene Placidi.
Erie County Judge John J. Mead accepted Adiutori’s no-contest plea and imposed what amounted to a non-conviction in a hearing on Wednesday – the same hearing where Adiutori said he ‘he was excited when he fired. Mead ordered Adiutori to pay only the prosecution costs.
With both sides agreeing to decide the case without a conviction, “I have no problem accepting this,” Mead said.
“Severity of the situation”
The resolution spares Adiutori the costs of a trial, where he planned to plead his self-defense but still risked conviction. He finds himself easily but with a criminal record, even if he has not pleaded any dispute, in which an accused agrees not to challenge the evidence of the prosecution but does not admit his guilt.
For the prosecution, the resolution ruled out the possibility of an acquittal – a frequent result in recent self-defense cases in Erie County – and kept a charge against Adiutori on the books, even though he received no sanction.
Another case of self-defense:Greene Township man acquitted of manslaughter and other charges in Harborcreek Strip Club shooting
The resolution of the case on Wednesday, First Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Hirz told the court, was still aimed at ensuring that Adiutori understood “the gravity of the situation” and that the shooting was “something he did not understand. ‘should not have engaged “.
As also raised in court, the resolution acknowledged the lengthy nature of the case and its impact on Adiutori’s potential punishment.
Due to Adiutori’s lack of background and the circumstances of the case, he would likely have been put on probation had he been convicted of reckless endangerment as a second degree misdemeanor or for driving disorderly as a third degree misdemeanor.
As was suggested to the court, a probation sentence could be seen as redundant and unnecessary for Adiutori. After being indicted by summons five years ago, Adiutori had remained free on bail and had no trouble, as Placidi, his lawyer, told Judge Mead. Adiutori had previously been on probation, in a way, during this time.
Echoing Placidi, Herz called the case “unusual”.
District Attorney Jack Daneri, invited to comment on the case, referred to Herz’s explanation in court.
Reasons for the delay
In addition to the dismissal request, other pre-trial issues have delayed the case even before the pandemic suspended trials for months at the Erie County courthouse.
Adiutori has twice been denied requests for Fast Track Rehabilitation, the probation program for non-violent offenders for the first time in which successful participants find themselves without a criminal record in their case. The district attorney’s office has discretion over who goes on ARD.
Preliminary hearing:Store owner Erie faces trial for shooting robbery suspect
Through Placidi, Adiutori filed his last ARD application in August 2018, according to court records. After that, the case remained on the roll, with Placidi repeatedly getting extensions until Wednesday’s hearing brought the prosecution to an end.
“It is a fair resolution under the circumstances and the facts of the case,” Placidi said in an interview.
In court, he said the defense position from the start was that “this case is defensible”. Referring to Adiutori firing the handgun, which he was allowed to carry, “he feels justified,” Placidi said.
He said Adiutori has been a valued member of the community for “over 50 years”. Dee’s Cigar Store is owned by the Adiutori family and has been in business since 1939.
Shoot the thief
The shooting occurred shortly after 6:15 a.m. on August 17, 2016. Adiutori fired a .380 caliber handgun as he pursued the thief at the corner of State and East 17th streets. The thief was heading east on East 17th Street, police said.
The thief, Nahmar O. Green, 21, pleaded guilty in March 2017 to robbing Dee’s on August 17, 2016 and attempting to rob the store two days earlier.
Police said Green wore a mask in every incident, including a “Scream” movie mask on August 17, 2016. In that case, Green was also charged with confronting Adiutori with a gun and stealing several thousand dollars from a drawer before running away. Police said the gun was a plastic toy.
Heist at Dee Cigar Store:Erie man convicted of thefts
Green was sentenced in May 2017 to three years and four months to six years and eight months in state prison for the two incidents at Dee’s house and another theft. His lawyer said he was not taking medication for schizophrenia at the time. Green, now 26, was released from prison in January 2020 and is on parole, state records show.
Surveillance video was essential evidence in Adiutori’s case. The video was taken from a camera at the Erie Labor Temple, 1701 State St., next to Dee.
The video showed a man in dark clothes entering Dee’s house and running away less than two minutes later, appearing to be holding a gun. The video showed Adiutori following him seconds later with a handgun.
Erie County Judge Stephanie Domitrovich cited surveillance video and other evidence to deny the defense’s request to dismiss the charge of reckless endangerment in 2017. She wrote in an opinion that the There was evidence that Adiutori fired the pistol as cars drove along French Street near the East. 17th street. Domitrovich also wrote that “residential and commercial structures” are located near where Adiutori fired.
When he fired, Adiutori “could have put other people in danger of death or serious bodily harm,” Domitrovich wrote. She wrote that her use of the weapon was sufficient proof that Adiutori “had actual current capacity to inflict damage (on) the armed robber”.
Key decision:Judge lays endangerment charge in Dee’s Cigar Store case
In Wednesdays court, Placidi told Judge Mead that Adiutori was alone during the attempted robbery, but with a client during the robbery on August 17, 2016.
Adiutori had reason to fire the handgun in the second incident, Placidi said. He said the attempted robbery two days earlier concerned Adiutori and that he used the weapon on August 17, 2016, “to defend his client and his business.”
“The streets were empty,” Placidi also said.
Adiutori, speaking briefly, said in court that he acted in response to a dangerous situation and was excited. As Placidi went through the details of the case, including the thief’s use of a gun, Adiutori loudly intervened.
“He pointed a gun at my temple,” Adiutori said.