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Pittsfield police say officer who fatally shot Miguel Estrella followed use-of-force guidelines

A preliminary report released by the Pittsfield Police Department on Wednesday found the March 25 shooting of Miguel Estrella was in compliance with the department's use-of-force guidelines.

The police responded to calls regarding Estrella twice that night.

The first time, according to the report, "Estrella did not meet the criteria" for someone in crisis, meaning his behavior did not require the police to restrain and hospitalize him under state law.

The police report said Estrella "was not engaged in any self-harming behavior, and made no threats" and "refused transport to the hospital by EMS."

In an interview with NEPM a few days after Estrella's death, his girlfriend, Daneya Falwell, said when police arrived the first time, Estrella had been cutting his face, and later tried to stab himself in the stomach. The police left him in her care before returning a second time.

Shortly after 10 p.m., Officer Christopher Coffey responded to the second call regarding Estrella.

Coffey saw that Estrella had a "large knife" and "was within an arm's length of a female party," according to the report, and at one point Estrella moved towards the female "with the knife raised in a threatening manner."

Coffey assessed this as a deadly threat to the woman and himself, the report said. He drew his Taser and Estrella moved toward him with the knife. The report found the officer tried "to create distance and de-escalate." When Estrella did not comply, the report said, Coffey employed the stun gun with minimal effect.

Then, Officer Nicholas Sondrini arrived and used his Taser with no impact. Coffey then used his stun gun on Estrella again, which didn't stop him.

The report said the woman's "close proximity" to Estrella when the Taser was used placed her in danger "by means of Mr. Estrella's knife." Estrella moved toward both officers holding the knife.

The report said because Estrella "refused to comply with any verbal commands" and didn't respond to "de-escalation techniques," Sondrini saw this as an "imminent deadly threat to himself, Officer Coffey and the female party."

Then Estrella moved toward Sondrini at "a fast pace," with the knife raised, the report said.

"Recognizing this eminent deadly threat within a few feet of his position," the police said, Sondrini shot Estrella twice with his firearm. The officers "immediately disarmed Mr. Estrella and rendered medical treatment," according to the report.

Estrella was taken to Berkshire Medical Center, where he died.

The police review found the use of a stun gun and the shooting was in compliance with "all relevant department policies, training guidelines, statutory requirements and use of force guidelines."

Estrella's girlfriend, Falwell, who was with him the night he died, could not be reached for comment on the police findings.

The report stated the "outcome is tragic" and the department extends sincere condolences to Estrella's family and friends. The two officers, who had been on administrative leave, are now on "limited duty."

The police investigation team will submit a complete report within a few weeks.

The Berkshire County District Attorney's office is conducting a separate investigation, which is not yet completed.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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