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As community grieves, DA Harrington pledges objective, transparent investigation into Pittsfield police killing of Miguel Estrella

Josh Landes

In her first interview about the fatal police shooting of a 22-year-old Pittsfield, Massachusetts resident last Friday, Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington says her investigation will be thorough and objective.

Miguel Estrella’s death at the hands of a police officer has sent shockwaves through the Pittsfield community and raised questions about how an emergency call for protective custody turned lethal.

Pittsfield Police have declined requests for comment, referring WAMC to DA Andrea Harrington.

Estrella is described by friends and co-workers as a beloved community member committed to lifting up the West Side neighborhood he called home. Police say he had self-harmed with a knife before he was shot to death by an officer who has not been identified after being repeatedly tased. While the initial press release from police did not mention it, a subsequent communication from the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office made it clear that 911 dispatch had been alerted to Estrella’s history of mental illness.

Now, the investigation into the incident is in the hands of Harrington.

Harrington spoke with WAMC at an unrelated press conference Friday in Lee.

“All of the facts will be provided, first to the family and then to the rest of the community," the DA said. "So everybody will have access to every piece of information that we find- That’s all the interviews, all the forensic testing. We will review it all, we will have written findings based on what we learned from all of the pieces of evidence, and this will be very transparent. It will all be available to the community. We just need a little time so that we can do it and do it well and do it properly.”

When it comes to a timeline for the investigation, Harrington says that it could take months for forensic testing to be completed.

“I send my very deep condolences to the family of Mr. Estrella, and I recognize that people that are part of groups that are targeted more often by police violence find these events to be extremely traumatic, and we're certainly mindful of that," said Harrington. "And once we get past the investigation piece and once we get past our determination as to whether we're going to bring criminal charges, then the district attorney's office certainly wants to be engaged in community building, because having the community have faith and trust in law enforcement is critical to the mission of my office and of our jobs. And we've had a difficult time even helping some of the witnesses in this case feel comfortable and safe talking to law enforcement. So, that’s hampered our investigation. So, to me, that's a call to us to keep working on the community-building piece so that we can solve cases like this and so that we can have high quality investigations.”

Pittsfield city councilors tell WAMC that they have still not been briefed on the incident. Harrington says she’s keeping a tight lid on her investigation.

“The best practices when we are investigating a matter is to keep the investigation confidential until it's complete, because – I'm sure as you can imagine, and you see this happening a little bit – because there's a lot of information out in the community, it can start rumors, people can be confused about what the facts are. This is particularly stressful for family members and victims, because they don't know what to believe. So we do have a strict practice that people that are working on investigations keep that information confidential. In terms of- We have no authority over any witnesses or any people who have information. I have no authority to ask them to not share that information.”

Harrington, who ran for office as a progressive reformer in 2018, is widely expected to run for a second four-year term this year. Independent candidate Robert Sullivan has made criticizing the Democrat’s tenure the centerpiece of his campaign, knocking Harrington as insufficiently tough on crime.

“My approach to this job has always been to put the needs of this community first," said Harrington. "And that's what I've always done, and that's what I will continue to do.”

A fundraising campaign for Estrella’s family has already raised over $16,000.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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