|DA Clears Trooper in Fatal Hancock Shooting|
|By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff|
04:09PM / Friday, September 29, 2023
|The body-camera footage of the encounter between Philip Henault, who is seen with two knives, and Trooper William Munch is shown during a press conference at the Berkshire District Attorney's Office on Friday. Munch was found to have acted in self-defense and in compliance with policies. |
District Attorney Timothy Shugrue says the results of an autopsy by the medical examiner will not change his findings, which are based on the video and witnesses. With him are State Police Lts. Chris Bruno and Ryan Dickinson and First Assistant District Attorney Marianne Shelvey.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — District Attorney Timothy Shugrue has determined that State Police Trooper William Munch acted in compliance during what is being described as a "suicide by cop" earlier this month.
On Sept. 9, 64-year-old Phillip Henault reportedly placed a fictitious 911 call about an ongoing violent assault. Body-camera footage from the trooper shows the man advancing on him with two knives before being shot twice and collapsing in the street in front of his Richmond Road residence.
"Mr. Henault was actively using deadly force against law enforcement. There were no other objectively reasonable means that the trooper could have employed at the time in order to effectively protect himself and anyone that was in the home or the public. By virtue of his duties as a police officer, the trooper did not have the obligation to run away from Mr. Henault," Shugrue said during a press conference on Friday.
"Mr. Henault posed an active threat to the trooper and to the public. The trooper had a duty to arrest Mr. Henault who was engaged in various felonies. His arm was an active threat."
The DA determined that Munch's decision to fire his weapon at Henault under the circumstances was a "lawful and reasonable exercise of self-defense and defense of others" compliance with the policies of the State Police and commonwealth law, clearing the trooper of criminal charges and closing the investigation.
The lethal force was labeled as an "unavoidable last resort."
A preliminary autopsy determined the unofficial cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the torso with contributing factors of wounds to the wrists that were inflicted by Heneault. The final report from the medical examiner has not been issued.
"I contemplated holding off on this press conference until the report was issued, which on average takes about three more months," Shugrue said. "As this incident involved an officer and the final autopsy results will have no effect on the outcome of this investigation, I determined that it was more important to share my investigations and its findings in a timely manner while we're waiting for the final autopsy report. I believe in transparency and the sharing of information as soon as possible without jeopardizing an investigation."
The DA did not take questions from the press following the roughly 20-minute presentation. A 14-page report was provided that included summaries of the response, canvas of the neighborhood, search of the home, body-camera footage, and ballistic report.
"The full amount of information available to the district attorney is also summarized in that packet," Communications Director Julia Sabourin said.
A recording of the 911 call and a portion of the body-camera footage were played during the press conference.
The report states that Heneault called 911 at 6:53 a.m. on Sept. 9 and reported an ongoing domestic assault between two brothers involving a knife.
"My brother came after me with two knives and I'm locked in the bathroom," the caller said. State Police responded because Hancock does not have a police force.
Shugrue said there was no brother and it was a ruse to get law enforcement to that location, which is often referred to as a "suicide by cop."
Henault's mother can be heard in the background of the call and she was unharmed during the event.
"[Munch] arrived on the scene at approximately 7:04 a.m., pulling into the driveway of the residence. He attempted to contact residents of the house by approaching the front door and knocking. No one answered. Subsequently, [Munch] approached a garage entry door and saw the door being closed as he approached. [Munch] opened the garage door and encountered Phillip Henault. Phillip Henault had a large butcher's knife in each hand and made threatening statements including "I will [vulgarity] kill you man" and aggressively advanced towards [Munch]," the report reads.
"[Munch] retreated from the garage onto the front lawn as Phillip Henault continued to pursue and advance on him. Phillip Henault continued to hold both knives in a menacing manner. Phillip Henault stated "I'll [vulgarity] kill you" to [Munch] as he increased the speed of his advance, coming within approximately ten to twelve feet of the Trooper. In defense of his life, [Munch] fired one shot. This shot hit Phillip Henault, who initially fell to the ground, immediately got up, and continued toward the Trooper in an aggressive manner with the knives in his hands.
"While still retreating, [Munch] fired a second shot which struck Phillip Henault. Phillip Henault again got up and took a few steps towards the Trooper. Moments after the second shot, Philip Henault fell to the roadway where he ultimately died."
The trooper and a Pittsfield Police Department officer, who arrived shortly after, administered first aid county ambulance arrived around 7:16 a.m. while the officers were performing CPR. Henault was pronounced dead about 20 minutes later.
Henault can be heard saying that he is going to kill someone on the body-camera footage and that he has been trying to kill himself as well as taunting the trooper to shoot him. He had blood on his shirt when law enforcement arrived.
The trooper can be heard telling Henault to put the knives down, not approach, and telling him "This is stupid" and "I don't want to shoot you" during the incident.
Neighbors said they had known Henault's family for decades and he was known to have mental health issues and be troubled.
It was indicated that probable cause exists that Henault committed assault with intent to murder and assault with a dangerous weapon. Munch's status is under the jurisdiction of the State Police.
Shugrue emphasized that the Richmond Road home is a family residence and asked that their privacy be respected during this difficult time.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. To contact the Crisis Text Line, text HELLO to 741741. More information on crisis hotlines in Massachusetts can be found here.