Pittsfield Police emails reflect concern about elderly woman's arrest
PITTSFIELD — Emails exchanged between high-ranking officials in the city's police department suggest there were concerns regarding the questionable arrest of an 88-year-old woman last year as well as the pair of officers who took her into custody.
A June 26, 2015, email from Pittsfield Police Capt. David Granger to Chief Michael Wynn was critical of the response by officers Dale Eason and Jennifer Brueckmann after they were dispatched the day before to handle a report of a man wielding a baseball bat.
Dispatched to the wrong address, however, the officers showed up at the elderly woman's door. In Brueckmann's report, the officers confronted "an angry but confused" Phyllis Stankiewicz, who was holding a peeling knife she had been using to cut up apples.
During the confusion, things escalated between the officers and Stankiewicz — they disarmed her of the knife and she slapped Eason — resulting in her arrest.
"I believe if we had sent any other combination of officers from this department to the call it would NOT have ended in an arrest," Granger wrote in a June 26 email to Wynn.
Stankiewicz was charged with assault and battery on a police officer.
"Officers found [an] 88-year-old female in her own home and subsequent[ly] ground stabilized her and arrested her," Granger's email states.
The emails surfaced during a digBoston.com investigation into the circumstances surrounding Stankiewicz's arrest. The Pittsfield Police Department has not responded to a pair of requests from The Eagle for a complete array of emails regarding the arrest.
According to police, the incident started when a dispatcher gave inaccurate information to the officers, sending them a third of a mile away from the intended Memorial Drive address to Stankiewicz's home at 57 Wilson St. The officers were dispatched for a report of a disturbance involving a man brandishing a baseball bat.
The caller told the dispatcher they were calling from the "Wilson project," in front of number 57, according to police.
The dispatcher then incorrectly sent Eason and Brueckmann to 57 Wilson St.
"The poor performance of the dispatcher is the reason why the officers were in the wrong location," according to a Pittsfield Police email from Lt. Mark Trapani to Wynn.
The incident caused immediate concern within the department. In his June 26 email, Granger called it "something that could tarnish the reputation of the department for years."
Wynn and Granger did not respond to Eagle inquiries seeking further information on the incident and whether either officer was disciplined as a result.
Stankiewicz was arraigned on the charge in Central Berkshire District Court, but the case was dismissed soon after by the Berkshire District Attorney's office.
"The DA did the right thing by dropping the charges," said Mark T. Brennan, the attorney who represented Stankiewicz at her June 26 arraignment.
Brennan said Stankiewicz is hard of hearing and was peeling apples for applesauce when Eason and Brueckmann arrived at her door.
In his report, Eason stated there was no sign of anyone with a bat in the Wilson Street area. In her report, Brueckmann said neighbors informed the officers there was no disturbance in the area of which they were aware.
According to Brueckmann's report, the door to Stankiewicz's 57 Wilson St. home was open, the interior was quiet and she and Eason announced their presence.
Brueckmann said Stankiewicz "came at me with a knife in her hand," and yelled at the pair to get out of her house, telling them there was no crime occurring there.
Brennan said Stankiewicz was using a paring knife to peel her apples. A photo attached to the arrest report shows the knife, including the handle, is the length of a ballpoint pen.
Brueckmann stated in her report, "She continued at me and was just about sticking it in to my stomach. I did not have time or space to command her to drop the knife. I grabbed her wrist and took it out of her hand."
Her report goes on to claim Stankiewicz "became even more aggressive and started pushing us back even harder, striking us with her hands."
Eason's report appears to corroborate Brueckmann's version of events, but also adds Stankiewicz grabbed his left hand and slapped him on the left side of his face.
"At this point, I attempted to place Ms. Stankiewicz under arrest. Ms. Stankiewicz resisted and had to be placed on the ground. Officer Brueckmann assisted me with placing the handcuffs on her," part of Eason's report reads.
The Eagle also made a formal public records request for any documentation of any disciplinary action taken against Eason and Brueckmann during their time with the department.
The Eagle has yet to receive a response to that request.
The story of Stankiewicz's arrest was picked up by the Associated Press and published in newspapers across the country.
In his June 26 email, Trapani described the incident as, "unfortunate," and asked Wynn and Granger their thoughts on whether to drop charges or issue a press release. There is no record of a statement having been made by Pittsfield Police regarding the incident.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
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