Protest staged in Pittsfield man's killing in which officer was cleared
PITTSFIELD — Jacquelyn Sykes stood in Park Square on Saturday afternoon and held up a sign that read "Protect and serve not panic and shoot" at a passing Pittsfield police cruiser.
It has been just short of six months since the 31-year-old Pittsfield woman called police seeking help for her suicidal boyfriend and instead watched Officer Christopher Colello shoot him seven times outside their Taylor Street home. Daniel Gillis, 36, died at the scene.
"I don't think I will ever call the police again if something happens and I need help," Sykes said at the police brutality protest organized by friends of Gillis. "It's sad, because I've always had respect for police."
Skykes and Gillis' 34-year-old brother, Justin, said they hope that the protest and their outreach will raise awareness about a need for police to get training in dealing with individuals who are mentally ill or suicidal.
More than a dozen of Gillis' family members and friends donned T-shirts bearing words calling for justice, and carried signs and photos of him.
A representative from the Boston group Mass Action Against Police Brutality also attended the protest.
On Jan. 31, Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless announced that Colello would not face charges in the shooting because "Colello acted lawfully in defense of his fellow officers when Gillis suddenly charged at the officers while brandishing a knife."
Colello was placed on paid administrative leave immediately after the September shooting, per department policy. He was restored to full duty Oct. 2.
Sykes said she never feared for her own life when she called the business line of the Pittsfield Police Department that night, but wanted an officer to assist in stopping an intoxicated Gillis from hurting himself.
By the time eight officers arrived at their home, she had already taken one kitchen knife away from her boyfriend, but he had picked up a smaller one before exiting the home.
"I was able to get a knife from him, and I have no training," Sykes said at the protest. "I disarmed him."
Sykes said Colello was the last officer to arrive on the scene and fired shots at Gillis within a minute of arriving.
"My son didn't have to be shot seven times," Gillis' mother, Karen, said Saturday. "They could have tased him. I want justice."
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn has said the department has a limited number of Tasers, and officers at the scene that day were not equipped with one.
"They need to get equipment and training," Skyes' mother, Marie, said at the protest.
Karen Gillis and Sykes said they are disappointed that they heard through a newspaper article, rather than through an official from the District Attorney's Office, that Colello will not be charged.
Sykes said the family has reached out to multiple local attorneys about the case but hasn't been successful in finding representation willing to "take on the city."
Sykes has also been in contact with lawyers in Boston, she said.
The shooting wasn't the first interaction Gillis had with Pittsfield police, and Sykes believes that his criminal record played a role in how police handled the situation.
Gillis served an eight-year sentence on drug charges and was released in 2014.
"This just proves profiling has no color," Sykes said.
After getting out of prison, Gillis began working for a glass company and was most recently in construction, according to Sykes.
Though Gillis was great with children and was an overall "nice guy," he didn't handle alcohol well and tried to avoid it, Sykes said. But on Sept. 1, Gillis had been drinking, she said.
Karen Gillis called Colello "trigger-happy" and she and Sykes questioned how the officer could still be a member of a police department, regularly responding to high-stress calls.
In 2010, Colello fired two shots at a man during a domestic violence incident, striking, but not killing, him.
During that incident, the suspect had made threats to harm a family member and himself before heading into a wooded area.
After locating the suspect, who reportedly challenged officers to shoot him and moved toward them with his hands shoved into his pockets, ignoring orders to stop, Colello fired two shots, striking the suspect.
As of Saturday afternoon, Pittsfield police had not responded to an attempt seeking comment on the protest and comments from those in attendance.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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