Fatal police shooting likely 'suicide by cop,' probe finds
PITTSFIELD — The call sounded like a routine domestic disturbance.
Jacqueline Sykes had summoned police to her home at 43 Taylor St., on Sept. 1, after her boyfriend, Daniel Gillis, had broken in the front door.
But when the first officers arrived, Gillis charged at one of them holding a knife, shouting, "I'm going to f---ng stab you, n---a!"
Gillis retreated back into the home, and the officers called for backup.
Moments later, Gillis was dead, shot seven times by Officer Christopher Colello after he again charged at officers gathered outside the house.
"It is my opinion that Officer Christopher Colello utilized deadly force appropriately," wrote state police Detective Lt. David B. Foley, who conducted the investigation into the incident.
The 45-page report, based on multiple interviews with the responding officers and Gillis' girlfriend, Sykes, details a chaotic scene that quickly unraveled.
And it suggested Gillis may have intended for police to kill him in a so-called "suicide by cop."
The summary of the investigation, along with the recording of Sykes' call and cellphone video of the shooting, were obtained by The Eagle.
According to Sykes, Gillis was supposed to be moving to Boston for work the day of the shooting.
She said Gillis and a friend he was going to be working with had gotten into an argument.
That friend told Sykes that Gillis had already been drinking that morning and he dropped him off in the Hubbard Avenue/Merrill Road area.
Sykes returned to her house about noon and Gillis was there.
"He was not coherent," she told police. "He was blabbering."
She agreed to take Gillis to his mother's home, but Gillis grabbed the steering wheel during the trip, nearly causing an accident.
Sykes said she told Gillis to get out of the car and at that point, he ran off into traffic.
"He got out of my car and just ran in front of other cars ... like he wants to die," she told police. "Like that's his mindset, `I don't care about living anymore. If this car hits me, oh, well, the car hit me, it's the car's fault.' "
About 12:49 p.m., city police received a report of Gillis running in the middle of South Street, hitting cars with his fists.
A few minutes later, Gillis had returned to the Taylor Street home and was causing a disturbance. Sykes called the Pittsfield Police Department's non-emergency line and told a dispatcher, "My boyfriend just showed up at my house and he's drunk and I need someone to take him out of here, please."
Officers were dispatched to respond under a Code 2, meaning to use lights and sirens as needed.
Officer Shawn Gariepy was the first to arrive. He approached the front porch and saw Gillis come to the door.
Gillis was "real calm and nonchalant" when he first addressed Gariepy: "Hey, what's up, man?"
Gariepy replied, "I don't know, man, you tell me."
As Gariepy made his way onto the porch, Gillis "busted out" of the porch door and threatened to stab Gariepy with the large, red-handled knife he had in his hand.
"I jumped off the steps, drew my gun, turned back toward (Gillis) and he was gone," Gariepy's statement reads. "I could see that the door was closed now, so that's when I called for a barricaded suspect, probably."
He then radioed in for a Code 3, which changed the response to an emergency and advised a fast response with lights and sirens.
"I figured I was going to get stabbed," Gariepy said. "So, I figured I had to try to get back to get enough distance where even if he takes a swipe at me and I get hit, I'll have that split second to get my gun out."
"He went from zero to a hundred," Gariepy said. "If I wasn't able to get off the porch, he probably would have gotten to me, no doubt."
Gariepy said if he had enough time to do so, he would have shot Gillis.
"When (Gillis) came out of the house again and I heard (officers) yelling I thought for sure he was going right after one of them," Gariepy said. "Whether it was suicide by cop or whatever, he had already threatened that he was going to stab me, so if he comes back out of the house with a knife, that's his goal, as far as I'm concerned."
"I wouldn't even give him a second chance," Gariepy said.
Capt. Jeffrey Bradford, Sgt. Matthew Hill and officers Colello, Kipp Steinman, David Hallas, Brenna Dorr, Brennon Stockton, Anthony Lizotte and Brett Henault responded.
Inside, Sykes managed to get the knife away from Gillis, left the house through the back door and threw it into the backyard.
Officer David Potash was the next to arrive.
He had his gun drawn, but down at his side as he approached and saw Sykes in the front yard crying.
Most of the responding officers had their weapons drawn in a similar manner, according to the report.
Officers asked Sykes if there were any guns in the house. She said no, and told police that Gillis had swallowed a large amount of valium pills.
"We're talking a lot," she told police. "Like, he will probably have to have his stomach pumped."
Bradford arrived just before Gillis exited the house. He was aware that Dorr was on the department's tactical team and told her to get the "less lethal shotgun." Dorr did not have that weapon.
Potash saw movement at the back of the house and let other officers know Gillis was coming through the back door.
"(Gillis) is coming right down the stairs at me and in his left hand, he's clenching a yellow-orange butcher knife," Potash told investigators. "He just came bee-lining right toward me."
He said Gillis ignored commands to drop the knife, and said he saw "rage and anger" in Gillis' eyes.
Potash said he considered firing at Gillis because he couldn't move any farther back and there were civilians behind him.
At that point, Gillis changed direction and moved toward other officers.
When Hill and Hallas arrived, they saw the other officers had a perimeter set up with their guns drawn and "attempted to retrieve the less than lethal shotgun from the trunk of Sgt. Hill's cruiser," according to the report.
At that same time, Hill and Hallas heard officers yelling to Gillis to drop the knife.
"At that point," the report said, "Hallas turned around, because he knew that he did not have time to retrieve the less lethal weapon."
He saw officers moving to the back of the house with their weapons drawn, grabbed his Taser and started running across the front lawn, and heard more orders to drop the knife.
He was about 30 to 40 feet away when he saw Gillis who was "non-compliant, still walking toward Henault." while ignoring commands to drop the knife.
He then heard what he estimated to be three or four shots and saw it was Colello who had fired them.
Bradford had called for officers to use their Tasers, but, "things happened too fast," according to the report.
"(Gillis) wasn't giving us time to slow things down, which is what we're trained to do," Bradford told investigators. "Slow things down and give us an opportunity to introduce less lethal [weaponry] or do some type of intervention to get things under control."
Bradford said Gillis didn't heed any of the instructions to drop the knife.
"He was determined to keep moving in the direction he was moving," Bradford said.
Henault had his gun drawn and reached for his Taser after hearing Bradford yell, "Taze him, Taze him."
"This caused a confused moment for Henault, who very briefly attempted to retrieve his Taser, which was not there," part of the report reads.
The supply of Tasers had been signed out to other officers that day, according to the report. Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn has said that there are not enough Tasers to supply each officer during a shift.
"I looked and we don't have enough Tasers for everybody I guess in the department," Henault told investigators.
Henault said he also considered shooting Gillis.
"There was no way I was going to let (Gillis) go and, because I had a perfect background with the house right here, nobody in it, there was nobody behind him," Henault said. "I felt like I could have done that and I should have, but I had someone else saying to do a different use of force, so that threw me... like short-circuited me."
Henault said Gillis started running and yelling for officers to shoot and kill him.
"The second that Lizotte tried to put his weapon away to grab a Taser, it was already over," he said.
"(Gillis) was coming toward me and Henault. I'm thinking, `Oh my God... I might have to shoot this guy,' " Lizotte said. "(Gillis) was going nuts on that front lawn and he was coming at us, screaming."
"It was a dangerous situation." Lizotte said.
Gillis continued to quickly advance on police while yelling at officers to kill him, and came within 6 to 12 feet of other officers when Colello opened fire.
Colello reiterated what other officers had reported, that Gillis had the knife to his throat, telling police to kill him.
He estimated he had only been at the scene for a minute or two before he shot Gillis.
Colello said Gillis made a beeline toward other officers, took the knife from his throat and extended it toward police.
"I felt that was it for them," Colello said. "(Gillis) was ignoring all of our commands ... the knife was out and I fired my weapon to stop him."
"(Gillis) was going to kill one of [the other officers]," Colello said.
About 1 p.m., Bradford radioed that shots had been fired and Gillis was down.
Several officers administered first aid to Gillis while an ambulance was en route.
Gillis had several self-inflicted bleeding cuts on both of his arms.
Colello hit Gillis seven times. He was later pronounced dead at Berkshire Medical Center. An autopsy determined he died from those wounds.
"It should be noted that strong, compelling evidence suggests Gillis retained a `suicide by cop,' mindset upon PPD officers arriving," state police Detective Lt. David B. Foley wrote in his conclusion to the investigation.
Foley wrote that while such a scenario can't be 100 percent proven, the evidence suggested it was likely the case.
He concluded that, despite Bradford's call for Tasers, "the event occurred too rapidly for several of the officers ... to make the transition from their firearms, which were drawn."
Foley also noted that the use of nondeadly force would have posed a high degree of harm or death to the officers if those options missed or failed to stop Gillis' advance.
"It is contrary to training to utilize less than lethal force during a clearly deadly situation," Foley wrote in his conclusion.
Colello was placed on paid administrative leave in the immediate aftermath of the incident. He was reinstated after an internal investigation found no wrongdoing on his part. The state police investigation was completed last month.
"Although it is not the intent of this investigation to determine if Pittsfield Police Department policy and procedure was adhered to, it is worth noting in his split-second decision to utilize deadly force, Officer Colello reasonably did so in an appropriate manner and appears to be within the guidelines of his department's policy," Foley wrote.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.
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