MEMBER SIGN IN
Not a member? Become one today!
         iBerkshires     Berkshire Chamber     Berkshire Community College     City of Pittsfield    
Search
DA Finds Officer Acted Lawfully in Shooting Miguel Estrella
By Brittany Polito,
04:45PM / Friday, August 05, 2022
Print | Email  

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, center, holds a news conference Friday to reveal findings and give an in-depth look at the evidence.

Elena Estrella, Miguel's sister, urged the city to do better so that this does not happen to another person.

Friday's news briefing in the conference room at the District Attorney's office attracted media from around the county and New York's Capital District.

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn and Mayor Linda Tyer listen to District Attorney Andrea Harrington give the results of her office's investigation into the death of Miguel Estrella.


Updated on Friday at 8:50 p.m. with more detail.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- The Berkshire County District Attorney’s investigation of Miguel Estrella’s death by police in March cleared Pittsfield Police officer Nicholas Sondrini of criminal charges, stating that he used lawful force with his firearm in self-defense.

Additionally, it stated that both Sondrini and Officer Christopher Coffey’s taser deployments were lawfully used for self-defense and defense of another.
 
On Friday, District Attorney Andrea Harrington held a news conference to reveal those findings and give an in-depth look at the evidence.  
 
“The facts that we have gathered demonstrate that Officer Sondrini acted in self-defense when he shot Miguel Estrella,” she reported.
 
“Massachusetts General Law states that officers are within their lawful authority to use lethal force when they have exhausted as many attempts at de-escalation as feasible, when lethal force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm, and the force is proportional to the threatened harm.”
 
Harrington said that the State Police detective unit assigned to her office conducted an independent, objective, thorough investigation with two goals: to establish the facts necessary to determine if the police officers involved in Estrella’s death acted criminally and to give his family and the community a comprehensive account of what happened on March 25.
 
The details of the report and testimony from loved ones suggest that Estrella was in a mental health crisis when two 911 calls were made before his death. There were accounts of the 22-year-old self-harming and using suicidal language.
 
A preliminary investigation by the Pittsfield Police Department that was released in late April determined that he did not meet the criteria of a "person in crisis.”
 
“Many systems failed Miguel Estrella,” Harrington said. “He did not receive the mental health services that he needed. This is a result of decades of failure to invest in basic healthcare at the federal and state level. People here in Berkshire County are suffering due to that.”
 
She said she hopes that her office’s investigation supports stakeholders in coming together and identifying procedural and systemic reforms to promote the health and wellbeing of the community.
 
Miguel Estrella’s sister Elina Estrella said her family every day thinks about what would have happened if Estrella was assisted by a medical health professional trained in de-escalation and if the police were more proactive in getting him medical help.
 
She urged society to do better so that this doesn’t happen to another person.
 
“Miguel died because there’s something wrong with the way that we deal with mental health crises,” Elena Estrella said. “He was cutting his face with a boxcutter. That’s why the police were called the first time. The person who called 911 said he had been cutting himself and had mental health issues. About the first encounter, I cannot help but wonder whether the police should have taken him to the psychiatric ward. Why wasn’t the mental health professional who works with the police department there?
 
“How can calls for help during a mental health crisis end up in the person needing help getting shot and killed? The calls went out, not because Miguel was threatening anyone else or because others were scared for their own safety, but because others were concerned that Miguel was hurting himself. Clearly, this was a mental health crisis.”
 
In an interview for the investigation, Estrella’s girlfriend Daneya Falwell shared a similar sentiment.
 
“He’s like, he doesn’t want to live, you know.  He was ready to take himself,” the report quotes Falwell telling investigators.
 
“And obviously a person like that, with mental illness like that, needs help. And that’s what they were called for, to help him. Not to hurt him. Not to kill him.”
 
The investigation took a little more than four months to complete, which Harrington said is comparable to time the office has spent on police shootings in the past.
 
At a mid-afternoon news briefing in her North Street office, Harrington walked reporters through the findings of the report, playing audio recordings from witness statements and a video taken from a nearby security camera and enhanced by the FBI for her office. 
 
At about 10 p.m. on March 25, police arrived at 279 Onota St., after receiving reports that Miguel Estrella was cutting himself after drinking and had mental health issues. He refused treatment from emergency medical service personnel and was not eligible for Section 12 restraint based on the “minor” cut to his face, according to police.
 
Shortly after 10:15, police returned to the Onota Street address after it was reported to 911 that Estrella was outside with a knife, police said. Police report that Estrella’s girlfriend was urging him to drop the knife.
 
During the second call, police say they employed tasers, a non-lethal electroshock weapon designed to incapacitate people, and attempted to talk Estrella down. Harrington’s investigation found that the responding officers used appropriate de-escalation techniques.
 
Harrington said Friday that officers fired the shock weapons three times but the investigation only could confirm that Estrella was hit by the taser at least once, in the neck. 
 
According to the report’s narrative, Coffey drew his taser and Sondrini drew his gun to cover him as they told Estrella to drop the knife without success.
 
“After the taser, Estrella became even more agitated. (Falwell) tried to place herself between Estrella and the officers,” the investigators’ narrative reads. “Estrella slowly approached them, still holding the knife. Backing up together, Coffey and Sondrini continued to talk to Estrella, told him that they did not want to do this, and offered to get him help.”
 
“Coffey pulled (Falwell) back with them toward the intersection of Onota, until they were at the middle line, almost in the northbound lane. A car passed behind them, Estrella paused at the edge of the road, then charged Sondrini with the knife. Sondrini fired two shots, and Estrella fell to the ground.”
 
Police reported that Estrella was in a boxer stance with the knife and a neighbor said that his fists were clenched and he was intimidating the officers. Falwell said Estrella’s posture was unstable and he was walking forward because he was drunk, according to the report.
 
The surveillance camera footage appears to show Estrella “flailing his arms” and advancing on police before he was shot.
 
Gunshot residue testing showed that he was 7 feet away from the officers when he was shot, Harrington said.
 
Harrington extended her condolences to Estrella’s family and recognized the trauma that this caused for his loved ones, the community, and black and brown residents.
 
“We need to do better,” Elena Estrella said. “We need to answer these questions so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
 
“Miguel was a kind, big-hearted, complicated son, brother, friend, and more to so many of us. He loved his friends, his family, his girlfriend and his mother very much. Miguel cared about us and about his community. Miguel did work for Habitat for Humanity and encouraged people around him to do better. He had his stumbles but tried to stay positive. Miguel was becoming the change he wanted to see in his community. His loss didn’t just affect his family and friends, it affected his colleagues, his community. This is how we want him to be remembered.”
Comments
More Featured Stories
Pittsfield.com is owned and operated by: Boxcar Media 106 Main Sreet, P.O. Box 1787 North Adams, MA 01247 -- T. 413-663-3384 F.413-664-4251
© 2008 Boxcar Media LLC - All rights reserved