PITTSFIELD, Mass. (NEWS10) — During an interview with NEWS10, Daneya Falwell, Miguel Estrella’s girlfriend, said he had been struggling with mental illness. She says the night Miguel was shot and killed by a currently unidentified Pittsfield police officer, he had been drinking heavily and cutting himself with a knife.
Daneya told NEWS10’s Anya Tucker that a concerned friend called 911 and officers responded to Daneya’s apartment building. “[They] told him to give them the knife. And then they told me they were supposed to forcibly take him into custody, and they didn’t,” she said.
She says the officers left Miguel in her care, intoxicated and with his self-inflicted wounds, because he had refused medical treatment. But four minutes later, when Daneya called for an ambulance to take Miguel to the hospital, it was the police who again responded.
According to a Pittsfield Police press release, the two officers claim Miguel “advanced on the officers” with a knife in his hand. One of the officers tried to subdue Miguel with a taser, and when that did not work, the other officer fired upon Miguel twice.
Anya asked Daneya, who witnessed the fatal encounter, if Miguel had approached the officer at any time. She said he did not. “No he wasn’t attacking. He was just hurting himself,” she said.
The Pittsfield Police have a mental health co-responding unit to de-escalate situations when someone is in crisis. But according to a report in the Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn told the newspaper that a mental health co-responder had ended their shift minutes before the first call to Miguel’s residence.
Former Troy Police Cpt. John Cooney trains officers in how to respond to mental health situations and subjects in crisis. He says, while he does not have the benefit of having all the details, based on the current information that has been widely reported, he wonders why the officers decided to leave Miguel in the care of his girlfriend. “To see someone in crisis and judge it in a manner where we feel we can drive away and let the crisis continue, that’s a tough one for me,” said Cooney.
Anya asked what questions Cooney would want to ask in order to gain a better understanding of what happened. Cooney said he would first ask about the presence of the mental health unit or the lack of it. “I mean, crisis intervention is not something that a police officer is born with. They have to be trained with it. They have to become good at it,” added Cooney.
The Pittsfield Police Department has links posted on its website detailing procedures and policies. It reads that officers cannot force anyone to receive medical care. However, it does state that in cases when mental illness may be a factor, the officer should consider proceeding with a civil commitment. Cooney says that allows officers to take subjects into custody for treatment or a psychological evaluation if they are considered to be a harm to themselves.
As for the Pittsfield Police, they are referring all questions to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, which has a unit from the state police investigating.