The officers who responded to Brian Williams' home at Lake Winola to detain him on a mental health warrant failed to establish an incident commander and properly communicate with one another during the operation, Wyoming County District Attorney Jeffrey Mitchell said Tuesday.
Asked to elaborate on the comment made in a Monday news release that "mistakes were made while serving the mental health warrant" on Mr. Willams on Nov. 7, Mr. Mitchell pointed out the two errors but reiterated that the officer who fired the fatal shots, Tunkhannock Twp. Officer Mark Papi, had proper cause.
On Friday, attorney Shelley L. Centini formally notifed Officer Papi that she will be filing suit against him on behalf of Mr. Williams' family.
After Community Counseling Services contacted authorities on Nov. 7 seeking a mental health commitment for Mr. Williams because he had threatened to kill his wife, police officers from several area departments and state police responded to the 1246 Route 307 home to serve the warrant between 2 and 3:15 p.m.
In that time, Tunkhannock Twp. Police Chief Stanley Ely began speaking with Mr. Williams, who was sticking his head out of a basement door, while other officers formed a perimeter around the Overfield Twp. home.
"Williams became increasingly agitated and refused to cooperate with the warrant," the news release issued Monday read. "Williams was adamant that he would not be taken into custody."
Officers received a key to the home from relatives of Mr. Williams and a group of six officers entered through the front door.
Asked if the officers' entry into the house was warranted, Mr. Mitchell said Tuesday "that can be appropriate based upon the circumstances but there was a breakdown of communication" between the officers who entered the home and the officer speaking to Mr. Williams.
When the officers reached the basement, they realized Mr. Williams was in a bedroom and asked him repeatedly to open the door, which he refused, according to the release.
By then, Chief Ely had joined the officers inside and also asked Mr. Williams to open the door, which he did not. Tunkhannock police Patrolman Robert Roberts then pushed through the door with a shield and the momentum forced him into Mr. Williams, who fell onto a bed in the small room and got back up with a fireplace poker in hand, according to the release.
As Mr. Williams began to swing the poker at Officer Roberts and Officer Papi, officers fired a Taser at him three times, an effort that had "minimal effect" as the device's prongs either did not penetrate Mr. Williams' clothing or missed him altogether, according to the release.
Mr. Williams continued to swing the poker at the officers, who were not wearing helmets and whose heads were not covered by the shield.
It was at that point that Officer Papi fired two shots at Mr. Williams, one of which lodged in his heart. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mr. Mitchell said Tuesday that the officers are not required by protocol to wear helmets and that the "submissive position" they found themselves in beneath Mr. Williams justified the shooting.
"I think what the officer did was justifiable," Mr. Mitchell said. "We can choose a myriad of different scenarios where something else could happen ... they were in more of a submissive position."
Mr. Mitchell said that while there was a police chief on the scene -- Chief Ely -- Overfield Twp. Police Chief Terrance Fisher was not at the scene and a designated incident commander was not established.
Mr. Mitchell said his office will meet with the chiefs of the police departments involved to discuss the incident and "what different approaches should be considered in the future" as well as possible training opportunities.
Meanwhile, the civil summons filed against Officer Papi identifies him as the sole defendant in the pending lawsuit.
Ms. Centini, of the Dyller Law Firm in Wilkes-Barre, declined to comment specifically on the content of the lawsuit or when it will be filed.
Copyright 2013 - The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service