PITTSFIELD, Mass. (NEWS10) — Friends of a man killed in an encounter with police said they feel a system meant to help failed him instead. It happened late Friday night when Pittsfield officers responded to an apartment building on Onota Street, where a small memorial now stands.
The Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office (DA) said that 911 received multiple calls about 22-year-old Miguel Estrella—who had a history of mental illness—who they said was cutting himself. But they also said that Estrella refused medical treatment, so officers left him in the care of his girlfriend.
Yet minutes later, 911 received another call requesting the officers to return. A statement from the DA outlines a witness account that Estrella had a knife in his hands and “advanced towards the officers.” Law enforcement authorities said that’s when they deployed a Taser. They said an officer shot Estrella twice when the Taser could not subdue him.
He died at the hospital.
“His girlfriend called because she was worried for him,” said Estrella’s friend and former colleague, Dubois Thomas, who feels the system failed Estrella. “Instead, the people who were sent killed him.” Thomas wondered why the officers didn’t do more to persuade Estrella to allow them to connect him to mental health professionals at the hospital or for a psychological evaluation.
Thomas and others told NEWS10 that the way police characterized Miguel Estrella is at odds with the man they knew. They describe him as a success story: A young man who fought his way out of a rough childhood, volunteering with Habitat For Humanity at age 15, and then going on to become an employee with the organization.
Brent Getchell, a construction manager with Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, worked closely with Estrella. He described him as a great person who would help anybody, saying he was on his way to becoming an electrician. And Carolyn Valli, the CEO of the Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, first met Estrella when he signed up to be a volunteer as a teenager.
She called him a motivator who was tireless in his efforts to improve his neighborhood rather than trying to escape it. “He was just like a light in the room, and that’s what I think I’m going to miss the most,” Valli said. “That’s a light that’s been just diminished.”
Much remains unclear surrounding what unfolded Friday night. NEWS10’s Anya Tucker spoke to a resident of the apartment building. Wishing to remain anonymous, they said they heard an officer yell, “Don’t make me do this!” before hearing gunshots.
The Pittsfield Police referred all media inquiries to the DA. The names of the officers involved in the fatal encounter have not yet been released.