Questions, disagreements ensue after fatal police shooting
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — It took just over two minutes from the time Ansonia police officers entered the home until a knife-wielding Michael Gregory fell onto the kitchen floor after a fatal gunshot fired by one of the officers.
Police were responding on Jan. 2 to a report by Gregory’s girlfriend that he was in her home and violating a no-contact protective order issued after he was arrested for domestic violence. Before the officer opened fire, he shot Gregory with a stun gun, but it had no effect.
Gregory’s death, which was recorded by officers’ body cameras, has raised questions about whether police did enough to diffuse the situation and showed the fallibility of stun guns — a problem officers around the country are experiencing.
“It seemed like at every turn, police escalated the situation,” said David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. “It begs the question: How many people have to die at the hands of police until there are meaningful systems to deal with people in crisis?”
Ansonia police and other advocates, however, believe the officers acted appropriately and had no choice but to use deadly force when Gregory came at them with a knife.
“Officers attempted to verbally de-escalate the situation,” Police Chief Andrew Cota III said in a statement after the shooting. “The officers continued to try get the male to comply with orders to drop the knife. The male refused to drop the knife and officers deployed a Taser, which had no effect as the male advanced toward them.
“The male then ran toward officers with the knife in hand,” he said. “Officers made every attempt to create distance between themselves and the unwanted male/subject. An officer on scene then discharged at least one round from his firearm, striking the male.”
A state prosecutor is investigating whether the shooting was justified. The three officers were placed on administrative leave, standard procedure after deadly use of force incidents.
Ansonia police have declined to answer questions about the officers’ actions, citing the investigation, and any deescalation training officers receive.
Lt Patrick Lynch, a spokesman for Ansonia police, said he would not speculate on why the stun gun failed to affect Gregory.
“The weapon’s not infallible,” Lynch said. “Sometimes pepper spray doesn’t work on people, and sometimes Tasers don’t work on people.”
Officers from some of the largest departments in the country rate their Taser stun guns as effective as little as 55% of the time, American Public Media reported in May. The report also found more than 250 fatal shootings by police nationwide from 2015 to 2017 occurred after a Taser failed to incapacitate the person killed.
Gregory’s relatives did not return messages seeking comment.
His father, Miguel Gregory, initially told Hearst Connecticut Media that his son should not have been killed. Then he watched the police body camera videos.
“I had to see the video to answer my questions,” Miguel Gregory said. “I’m at peace now. ... The boy was troubled.”
No one but Michael Gregory appeared to be in the home when police arrived that night after his girlfriend made a complaint at the police station. The officers who went to the home included Officers Brendon Nelson and Wojciech Podgorski and Sgt. Christopher Flynn.
The officers spent several minutes outside the house, getting no response, before one of them knocked on and opened the door. Gregory is seen in the kitchen and grabs a large knife, and tense words ensue.
“You’re going to have to shoot me,” Gregory tells the officers several times.
“You don’t have to do that,” one officer replies. “We’re not playing this game.”
Gregory later says, “Shoot me or run up on me. That’s exactly how it’s going to go,” before going into another room and closing the door. Gregory is heard saying, “I’m ready,” in the room.
“Mike, open up the door. It’s your last chance,” an officer says.
About 45 seconds after Gregory went into the room, Flynn kicked the door open, Gregory starts coming out with the knife and Nelson shoots the stun gun. Gregory, appearing unaffected, goes after the officers with the knife still in his hand, and Nelson fires his handgun three times, hitting Gregory once in the chest.
Maria Haberfeld, a police science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said it appeared to be a case of “suicide by cop.”
The officers may have acted quickly, she said, without trying to talk Gregory out of the room, because they worried he would hurt himself with the knife.
“When somebody’s holding a weapon and they lock themselves in a room, there’s not much time for talking,” Haberfeld said. “It’s a Catch-22 in a sense. If they continue to talk to him and he hurt himself, there would be claims of negligence. As bad as it looks, I really feel they did what they were supposed to do.”