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Hampden DA finds fatal shooting by Springfield police officer was justified

Video from a doorbell surveillance camera that showed the fatal encounter between Springfield police officers and 23-year-old Orlando Taylor III was among the evidence in the case made public by the Hampden District Attorney's office.
Video from a doorbell surveillance camera that showed the fatal encounter between Springfield police officers and 23-year-old Orlando Taylor III was among the evidence in the case made public by the Hampden District Attorney's office.

Family of slain man is "devastated" by the prosecutor's decision

A prosecutor has found no wrong-doing by police officers in a deadly shooting earlier this month in Springfield, Massachusetts.
( A word of caution, there is audio in this report that some may find disturbing.)

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced Friday that he was closing the investigation into the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Orlando Taylor III by Springfield Police Officer Arjel Falcon, determining that the officer acted in self-defense after Taylor had stabbed him in the face with a knife.

“It is this office’s opinion that Officer Falcon’s use of deadly force was reasonable and unavoidable in the interest of his own safety, that of his partners’, and the publics’,” Gulluni said.

At 8:30 in the morning of Sunday January 9, police responded to a 911 call of a man with a knife threatening someone at the intersection of Liberty and Cass Streets. Falcon and his partner, Officer Christopher Roberts spotted Taylor a few blocks away on Genesee Street and approached him.

According to a narrative by Gulluni, supported by police body camera footage and video from a doorbell surveillance camera shown at Friday’s news conference, Taylor drew a knife and stabbed Falcon. He ignored repeated orders from the officers to drop the knife and instead charged at Falcon and his partner.

Taylor’s grandmother, Earlene Victoria Taylor, witnessed the confrontation from the porch of the family home on Genesee Street and pleaded with police not to shoot her grandson.

Gulluni said the use of non-lethal force, such as a Taser, was not an option in this situation.

“Given the obvious facts as shown in the video – the charging individual, who had already exhibited his ability and willingness to use lethal force, Officer Falcon’s drawing of his firearm and use of his firearm in the form of lethal force was appropriate and at least arguably necessary,” Gulluni said.

The DA said he met with members of the Taylor family before making the public announcement of his findings.

A spokesman for the family, Rev. Charles Stokes, said they plan to hire their own attorney to pursue an investigation.

“The family is devastated,” Stokes told WAMC News. “It was to be expected, but the finality of it is devastating and confusing. Now the family is just devastated.”

After meeting last week with the District Attorney to view the police body camera footage, Taylor’s mother, Adamina Eddington, speaking at a press conference, said she tried unsuccessfully for several days prior to the deadly encounter to get mental health treatment for her son.

“What could have been done differently?” asked Eddington. “They said the help was there and I was seeking it. What could I have done differently to save my son?”

Stokes and others including City Councilors Justin Hurst and Trayce Whitfield have sharply criticized Mayor Domenic Sarno and Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood for declaring just four hours after the shooting that the use of deadly force was justified.

Gulluni agreed Friday that Sarno and Clapprood’s pronouncement was premature.

“My focus in the last eleven days was on completing this investigation as quickly as possible and doing it objectively and fairly and coming to sound legal conclusions,” Gulluni said.

In a statement from the mayor’s office Friday, Sarno and Clapprood thanked the DA for his conclusion in the case and for making public the body-worn camera footage.

A spokesman for the police department said Officer Falcon suffered permanent nerve damage as a result of the knife wounds, has undergone surgery by a specialist in Boston and will need additional surgery to gain 70-80 percent functionality.

Falcon is a nine-year veteran of the Springfield Police Department.

He has been credited several times with saving peoples’ lives. He received an official commendation from the police department in 2018 after diving into the Connecticut River to rescue a drowning woman. He was also awarded a Bronze Star by the U.S. Army for valor in Afghanistan after he helped evacuate a building that had been hit by a rocket.

Video and other materials made public by the Hampden District Attorney's office can be found here: https://madistrictattorney.sharefile.com/d-se752f508b036455d9c47484fc4cee3ed

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.