Last June, a Massachusetts state police officer fatally shot a man suffering from mental illness. Wilfredo Justiniano Jr., who suffered from schizophrenia, was killed by Trooper Stephen Walker on Route 28 in Quincy. The Bay State Examiner obtained a report on the shooting that state police submitted to the Norfolk District Attorney's Office by making a public records request. We are publishing the report as part of an effort to bring more transparency to police shootings in Massachusetts.
Although a number of newspapers and TV news programs reported on the shooting, we are not aware of any that have published the full report. In fact, after the district attorney announced his findings about the shooting, many publications -- The Boston Globe, The Patriot Ledger, The Standard-Times, and WCVB, for example -- did not base their accounts on the full report. Instead, they relied on a press release issued by the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office that never mentions the name of the police officer who killed Justiniano. (The Globe did end up publishing an article that names the officer, but not until January of this year.)
The full 11-page report was written by Detective Lieutenant Kevin P. Shea of the Massachusetts State Police just days after the shooting. It describes the state police investigation and does not offer an opinion on whether the shooting was justified.
Numerous parts of the report were redacted by the district attorney's office, including all the text on page eight and more than half the text of page nine.
According to the report, a witness saw Justiniano drive erratically, then exit his vehicle and wave his arms around while "speaking in an unknown dialect." She called 911 in an attempt to get him medical attention.
Trooper Walker was dispatched to the scene to help Justiniano. Walker "immediately called for a backup because he said he had a bad feeling about the situation." Walker then exited his vehicle without waiting for backup to arrive.
Justiniano saw Walker, then threatened to kill him, and attacked him with a pen. Walker pepper sprayed Justiniano, but it didn't stop him and ended up backfiring when the wind blew some of the spray into Walker's eyes. When Justiniano refused to stop attacking Walker, he shot him once. Justiniano continued to attack Walker, so he shot him a second time.
After Justiano had been shot, backup arrived. The report claims that Justiniano continued fighting and it took five police officers and two firefighters to handcuff him.
After the shooting, Justiniano was taken to a hospital where he was declared dead.
In August, Norfolk County District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey said he determined that the shooting was justified.
"The eye-witness accounts of civilian, fire and police witnesses, supported by significant physical and ballistics evidence, leave no room for doubt. The action of this Massachusetts State Police trooper was in self-defense and was justified as a matter of law," Morrissey was quoted as saying in his press release.
After the district attorney's findings were announced, Ilyas J. Rona, the attorney representing Justiniano's family, issued the following statement:
We are disappointed, but not surprised, with the DA's press release, as nearly every investigation of a police officer's use of deadly force results in a finding of justification.
The family is heartbroken by the loss of Wilfredo. What we know for certain is that shortly after a call for a medical emergency, a person in distress was shot and killed.
Given the magnitude of this tragedy, we find the DA's conclusion that there is 'no room for doubt' an unfortunately confident statement. This tragedy should not be used as a means to justify the use of deadly force against a mentally ill man, but as an opportunity to ensure that police are equipped to prevent such tragedies in the first place. We welcome anyone with information that could help us achieve this goal to come forward.
Justiniano’s younger sister, Damaris Justiniano, told The Boston Globe that she hoped the state police would start using less lethal weapon like Tasers and implement better training for dealing with people suffering from mental illness.
Rona, the family’s attorney, told the Globe that he found inconsistencies in witness statements, although he did not provide any specific examples.
The Bay State Examiner requested transcripts of the interviews that state police conducted with witnesses so that we could review them for potential inconsistencies. The Examiner also requested copies of several photographs that are alluded to in the report. The Norfolk District Attorney said they would charge a $350 fee for the documents. (The DA's office said it would take one of their employees 10 hours to compile the documents at a charge of $32 per hour. They said the documents would be burned onto 3 CDs at a cost of $10 per CD.) Due to our limited budget, we opted not to pay for the documents at this time.
The Examiner contacted Rona by email to ask if he was willing to provide copies of the transcripts at no charge, but he did not respond.
Justiniano was one of 12 people shot to death by police in Massachusetts last year.
In total, police fatally shot 73 people in Massachusetts between 2002 and 2013. In every single case, prosecutors ultimately determined that the shootings were justified according to a recent report by the magazine CommonWealth.