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After Pittsfield City Council never mentions Estrella killing, Marchetti tells WAMC: “We probably should have”

Pittsfield police officers outside city hall during the April 12th, 2022 city council meeting.
Josh Landes
Pittsfield police officers outside city hall during the April 12th, 2022 city council meeting.

At its first meeting after a March 25th police killing sent shockwaves through the community, the Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council went two hours without making reference to the ongoing situation Tuesday.

What wasn’t said at Tuesday night’s Pittsfield city council meeting was the most resounding. Just two days earlier, the bereaved family of Miguel Estrella joined demonstrators on the steps of city hall to call for answers and justice after the 22-year-old was shot to death by a police officer last month.

The incident is under investigation by the Berkshire District Attorney. Andrea Harrington said Tuesday the probe may take six months.

“Counselor at-large Pete White, June 12th, 2020: I believe that changes should happen through the input and conversations over the courses of the year, not as a last minute effort because of the budget hearing. All departments should reflect the needs of the community," said Tonya Frazier, who worked with Estrella at Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity. She read out past statements about policing from Pittsfield’s elected officials during the racial reckoning of 2020.

“City Council President Peter Marchetti, June 12th, 2020: We need to focus on the root of the issues that are causing crime, and I would expect poverty, drug addiction and mental health issues are some of the main causes,” Frazier read.

But the council made no reference to the shooting at its first meeting of April. WAMC reached out to Marchetti Wednesday to find out why.

MARCHETTI: Well, as you know, Josh, if something is not on the agenda, we can't just talk about it. And so someone would have needed to submit a petition. But I would suggest that if we go back to the last time there was a police shooting in Pittsfield, which was several years ago, I believe on Taylor Street, We didn't discuss that matter either in open forum.

WAMC: I'm genuinely interested- So, what's the thinking? This is sort of like- It's probably the biggest story of the year in Pittsfield. I heard from a lot of folks on Sunday marching around the downtown who expressed a lot of dissatisfaction with elected leaders over the situation. You were quoted on the steps of City Hall by demonstrators for comments you made about the need for change two years ago, back in 2020. I'm just interested if you perceive there's some sort of disconnect between what's happening on the streets and what's happening in council chambers.

So I think we've all said there needs to be change. And I think that we're working towards change. And I continue to say, we need to define what police policing looks like in the future. And I don't think that's a conversation that we can put a timeline on of how fast that can change. Or- I think you want to make sure that you've vetted the new system so that it that it works, right? I don't want to go from something that we all may consider as broken to something that's worse. In terms of the first part of your question, you know, until an active investigation is done, I don't know what we can say, other than express our condolences to the family, which, quite frankly, having been someone who just lost something recently, doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot. And, you know, be prepared when the investigation is complete to make sure that if there's actions that need to be taken from the legislative body that it happens.

Do you think that the city council could have at the very least offered that that moment of condolence or recognition last night?

Yeah, we probably should have done something. Again, you know, hindsight is 20/20. So yeah, it could have- I easily could have said, and let's keep the family in our thoughts and prayers.

Marchetti was a key player in the most unexpected moment of the night, when two men arrived over an hour into the proceedings demanding time to speak – long after the open mic portion of the meeting.

“I’m asking you to please be quiet or I’ll have the police remove you,” said the council president.

WAMC caught up with the two men outside of city hall, where four police officers had gathered in response. LeMarr Talley said he had a petition calling on the city to examine its housing practices, especially for renters living in unmaintained properties.

“We went and did research to find out a lot of these buildings don't have inspection, haven't passed inspection," Talley told WAMC. "The city hasn't even regulated any of that stuff. We're looking at loans and stuff that the banks and the real estate agencies have been in collusion with and conspiring with to raise the property, you know, the appraisal rates of it, just so they could get those loans and secure those loans, but they're not taking care of the properties or putting equity back into them.”

Talley is a legal autodidact from his experiences representing himself in court. According to a Berkshire Eagle article from 2013, Talley – who has been imprisoned multiple times on drug possession and distribution charges – “did ‘as good a job’ defending himself ‘as any lawyer’ [the prosecutor in the case] had dealt with.

He told WAMC his interest in interrogating Pittsfield’s housing practices emerged from a friend in the West Side neighborhood living in a dangerously derelict apartment.

“This dude gets housing," said Talley. "They’ve given him housing paperwork from the housing department saying it passed inspection with no names and no dates. We start questioning that, go to city hall, find out there's been no inspection on the whole building for nine years, but they're using this dude as a creditor, basically, to go against, to get government funds to secure those funds, but not equitable taking care of the property as they’re supposed to. For five years he's been living in those conditions.”

Another notable moment from the meeting came when Mayor Linda Tyer at the last minute requested the council table the appointment of three new Pittsfield police officers, a procedure usually followed by applause from the body and meeting attendees. Tyer did not respond to a WAMC request about why she tabled the appointments in time for broadcast.

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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