PITTSFIELD — A new petition coming before the City Council could make it a fireable offense for any Pittsfield police officer to stand by without intervening while another law enforcement officer “engages in unlawful violence.”
The petition was written and submitted to the council by local attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo and is set to be referred to City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta and Police Chief Michael Wynn at the Feb. 14 meeting.
The document includes a foreword that states that the recent killing of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, in Memphis, Tenn., “teaches the importance of police intervention when fellow police officers engage in illegal force against civilians.”
On Jan. 7, five members of the Memphis Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods — or Scorpion — unit pulled Nichols over during a traffic stop. Nichols tried to flee on foot but was caught by the officers and brutally beaten for several minutes.
Nichols died three days later from his injuries. The five officers were fired from the department and charged with second-degree murder. Nationwide protests have called into question the actions not only of the officers charged, but other officers who stood by as the beating occurred.
Del Gallo’s petition pushes the council to pass a city ordinance that would explicitly require on-duty city officers to intervene if they witness another officer using violence against a civilian.
“It shall be the duty of any on-duty Pittsfield Police Officer to intervene when a police officer in their vicinity, (be they from the Pittsfield Police Department, another municipality’s police department, Massachusetts State Police, or federal law enforcement), engages in unlawful violence against any person so as to result in bodily injury or substantial physical pain,” the petition states.
The intent seems to replicate existing changes made to state standards around policing after the passage of the 2020 police reform law. That law laid out an explicit duty to intervene for officers that witness excessive force by another officer.
Officers that are found to be in violation of this duty are subject to de-certification by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. The commission is in charge of establishing the state’s certification process as well as its decertification process for misconduct.
Chief Wynn served as the inaugural representative for active police chiefs to the commission. He plans to step down from the commission in tandem with his recently announced retirement later this year.
Wynn has not responded to a request for comment on the petition.
For his part, Del Gallo sees no issue with passing a duplicate local ordinance. Del Gallo said if anything, passing the petition should be that much easier for the council.
“I don’t see the harm of [passing this petition] and I see a lot of good out of it,” Del Gallo said. “I think it’s important to make the statement … to set that value out there and say you can’t just watch other police officers engaging in clearly illegal conduct.”