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Our Opinion: When will the Pittsfield community have the answers it needs in Estrella shooting?

memorial for Miguel Estrella (copy)

A memorial for Miguel Estrella outside of his 279 Onota St. Apartment. Miguel Estrella was shot by police outside the apartment March 25 while holding a knife. 

The Berkshire district attorney this week publicly asked the agencies investigating Miguel Estrella’s death to accelerate that probe. Those agencies are mostly overseen by the District Attorney’s Office, so the DA’s public statement appears less like a step forward for a critical fact-finding mission and more like an effort to manage an anxious public’s expectations.

After Mr. Estrella’s fatal shooting by a Pittsfield Police officer, we called for a thorough investigation to be made public as swiftly as reasonably possible to bring some crucial transparency to this tragic incident that has rocked an entire city. District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s statement says she recognizes this “urgent need for details.” On behalf of a community on edge, we ask: When can we expect these urgently needed details?

The DA’s statement on the ongoing investigation only makes one chronological reference — not to let the public know approximately when important information might be made available but to say that “these types of investigations take four to six months” while committing to “significantly reducing that timeframe.” It’s not clear where that four-to-six-month average comes from, although it worryingly suggests that, even if the DA’s Office technically meets this commitment, public availability of this investigation’s key findings might still be a few months or more away.

That shouldn’t be the case, and other high-profile police shootings suggest that even great controversy need not preclude a relatively quick gathering and assessment of the facts. Derek Chauvin was indicted less than a week after the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. And even in cases without consistent eyewitness accounts and clear video evidence, key evidence is often made publicly available in significantly less time than four to six months.

To be sure, these sorts of investigations are complex and require great care, and we understand that the DA’s Office wants to get it right while many concerned eyes watch. Still, there is much daylight between rushing it and making an entire city wait on its hands for several months. Even more so than the average case, the entire community has a massive stake in the answers to the questions that continue to linger with the tragedy of Mr. Estrella’s death. Pittsfield Police say Mr. Estrella approached officers while holding a knife. What kind of knife and what size? How quickly and in what manner did Mr. Estrella approach police? How far away was he when police fired the fatal shot? What were the interactions between Mr. Estrella and police, and specifically what verbal orders were police giving him? The DA’s statement said that state police have already gathered plenty of evidence, including surveillance video. If that surveillance video sheds some objective light on the fatal encounter, when will that be released?

This is an ongoing investigation, and conducting it thoroughly and properly means that everything can’t always be made publicly available immediately. While we understand that, we also urge the DA’s Office to not simply hide behind pronouncing that this is an ongoing investigation as a reason to not provide any information, as this district attorney has done far too often. The answers to at least some of the aforementioned questions can be furnished without compromising the probe, which could be the difference between giving the community at least some clarity and letting confusion reign.

As we wrote previously, we urge everyone to do whatever they can to turn the temperature down in a sad and trying moment for Pittsfield and the greater Berkshire community. But lingering uncertainty only stands to turn the temperature up, which means authorities ought to get these answers and other critical info out to the public as quickly as they reasonably can. For that public on edge and those lingering questions, the DA’s Office should provide a reasonable approximation as to when — not how long other investigations might “typically” take, but when the public can expect to share in some illunimating truth in the aftermath of tragedy.

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