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Pittsfield Police Board Quits in Protest
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
06:27PM / Thursday, September 01, 2022
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Five members of the Police Advisory Review Board have resigned, leaving only Lt. Col. Thomas Grady of the Sheriff's Department on the panel.

Chair Ellen Maxon confirmed on Thursday that being barred from reviewing the report on the fatal police shooting of Miguel Estrella was the final straw.

She, Michael Feldberg, Erin Sullivan, Marie Richardson, and Dennis Powell have called it quits on the PARB.

Last month, PARB was notified that its ordinance does not allow them to cover Estrella's report because the board is intended to "review all final investigative reports regarding citizen complaints." 

This left members questioning its purpose and effectiveness, leading to comments such as "I don't know what we are doing actually."

A preliminary investigation by the Pittsfield Police Department released in late April determined the involved officers acted in compliance with established guidelines for use of force. Earlier this month, District Attorney Andrea Harrington's investigation cleared the shooting officer Nicholas Sondrini of criminal charges, stating that he used lawful force with his firearm in self-defense.

Two possible options that PARB had were to file a complaint and make a public records request, which might be subject to legal opinion, or to amend its ordinance.

Maxon pointed out that the panel was reconstituted after the fatal police shooting of Daniel Gillis in 2017 and found it ridiculous that PARB cannot review the materials it reconvened for.

For this reason, she and the four other members felt that their roles were restricted.

The board is appointed by Mayor Linda Tyer.  In an email, she told iBerkshires that she is going to pause new appointments for now and take a look at the structure of the panel.

"First, I would like to thank the members of the PARB for their service.  They are a great group and I am very sorry they’ve resigned.  At this point, I plan to pause appointments so that we can take a look at the current structure and see if there are any improvements that can be made," Tyer wrote. 

"In fact, before I received the resignations, (Police Chief Michael Wynn,) (City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta,) and I had very preliminary conversations about amending the ordinance.  I was looking forward to working with the PARB on this so, again, it’s disappointing that they’ve resigned."

This is not the first time that PARB has doubted its purpose.  The board considered amending its ordinance to support its mission and planned listening sessions to boost community engagement, which was identified to be lacking.

After Estrella's death, the PARB seemed to be in the spotlight and seemed to have a newfound purpose.  The panel also requested that in the event that the Police Department adopts a bodycam program, PARB reviews the governing policies before implementation.

It came as a surprise to members when they learned that they would not be able to review the Estrella report, which led to this mass exodus.

Maxon said she wants to remain involved in the community and plans to volunteer for 18 Degrees, a non-profit that promotes children's growth, development, and well-being.

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