The death of Rochester Police Officer Manny Ortiz is being called a tragic accident after Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter announced results of the investigation into the Nov. 2 mishap.
Ortiz, 52, accidentally shot himself in the left leg with his personal weapon while driving to work, and the bullet hit an artery. Good Samaritans tried to help immediately and deputies were there in seven minutes, but Ortiz died after the accident on Empire Boulevard in Penfield.
“Manny was a true giant in the department,” Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said at a news conference Nov. 4. “He was a true servant of this community. He loved his Hispanic heritage. He left a legacy of love, respect and service. We continue to honor his left. We will get through this. We will take it day by day.”
Ortiz was a 22-year veteran of the RPD who continued to work the overnight shift. He was assigned to the Community Affairs Bureau, and had worked in the northeast part of the city and in the downtown bar district.
“There’s not anything Manny would not do for anyone,” Singletary said. “He would speak to anybody. It speaks to his will for the job that after 22 years, he’s still working 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Singletary, who started with RPD 19 ½ years ago in the same section as Ortiz, said the officer loved to teach. “He had a knack for training. He was always willing to do what was asked of him. He will always be remembered.”
Of the four deputies first on the scene, Ortiz had trained three of them at the academy. Even though Ortiz was in street clothes, they knew their mentor.
Baxter said Ortiz died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound from a Smith & Wesson M&P 9 mm that hit the femoral artery in his left thigh. The femoral artery is one of the body’s major arteries and it supplies blood to the leg.
The shot caused the car to veer into the ravine.
Baxter gave a timeline of the event:
- At 6:56 p.m., Ortiz called his fiancée and told her he accidentally shot himself in the leg and was going to a hospital. Shortly after, the first call comes to 911 from motorists traveling behind him at 1385 Empire Blvd. in Penfield.
- At 7:03 p.m., the first deputies arrived.
- By 7:10 p.m., deputies remove Ortiz from the vehicle and apply tourniquets.
- At 7:13 p.m., Ortiz is declared deceased.
Monroe County Sheriff Chief Deputy Michael Fowler said witnesses saw Ortiz’s GMC Envoy drift into the oncoming lane and then into the ravine. The witnesses – one of whom was a registered nurse — stopped, but weren’t able to get Ortiz out of the car. He said the witnesses guided deputies to the car in the heavy brush about 10 yards off the road.
Baxter said the gun was recovered in the car and in its holster, but it appeared the gun was out of the holster when it fired. Baxter said the holster has a trigger guard. The Sheriff’s Office clarified that the gun has a safety on the left-hand side of the slide.
“There are a few questions we’re never going to be able to answer, for obvious reasons,” Baxter said.
Baxter said the bullet appeared to travel from the waistband on Ortiz’s right side through his left thigh. The bullet was found in the driver side door panel.
Asked if this would lead to changes in protocol for transporting personal weapons, Baxter said, “We always look at training opportunities. We said it the other night. This is a tragic accident. You can’t prevent every accident from occurring. There are a thousand ways to have a tragic accident.”
Baxter said 35 deputies worked on the investigation over the previous two days, and there were witness statements and dashboard video from a vehicle traveling behind Ortiz.
Ortiz’s death is the second major blow to RPD in a month. On Oct. 4, Officer Denny Wright was seriously wounded when answering a call for family trouble. Wright was hospitalized and then in a rehabilitation unit until Oct. 25, when he was able to go home.
“Here we are in another trying time,” Singletary said. “This tests our fortitude, our strength, our character. Together we will get through this, with community support.”
Several members of the RPD command staff and representatives of Monroe Ambulance attended the news conference at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. Before and after, they exchanged tight hugs.
Singletary said the emotional well-being of all members of the RPD is his priority, and counselors and clergy are available.
“A lot of times in law enforcement, we hold things in,” he said. “I think what we can do is talk to one another. The worst thing we can do is act like it did not happen. We have to remember who Manny was. We do that by talking.”