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Police shooting at issue in Ashland

Posted by Tom Coakley  July 18, 2013 11:56 AM

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A citizens group is questioning whether the fatal shooting of an Ashland man by local police could have been avoided if officers used more restraint and tried harder to defuse the tense situation that led to the July 2 incident.

Andrew Stigliano, 27, was shot to death inside a house at 13 Metropolitan Ave., after he allegedly threatened Ashland police with a shotgun. Police were attempting to arrest Stigliano on a warrant.

At a press conference Wednesday, former selectman Jon Fetherston presented a list of questions about the shooting he said the Ashland Citizens Awareness Committee wants answered by selectmen and police.

“Why didn’t the police pull back, calm down, and try to establish a perimeter, use the training they’ve gone through and let cooler heads prevail?” Fetherston asked.

“This is on the corner of a very busy shopping plaza. We’re questioning why normal citizens were put in harm’s way, potentially.”

In an interview after the press conference, Leonard H. Kesten, an attorney representing the town, said that selectmen and police are under orders by the Middlesex district attorney– who is conducting an investigation - not to talk about the shooting. All police shootings are reviewed by prosecutors to ensure they are justified.

“The town is not privy to their investigation,” said Kesten. “The town is not conducting an investigation. … We don’t have access to the full investigation.”

But Kesten dismissed allegations of mishandling by police as “paranoia” and said that “everything was done right” by police.

“It would be great if police officers, in times of stress, could call a timeout. You would love for a police officer to call a time out and say I need to consult with attorneys and call the police procedures experts,’’ Kesten said. “You can’t second-guess something that happens in split seconds, rapidly involving life-threatening circumstances.”

Town Manager Anthony Schiavi said while the district attorney’s office conducts its investigation, Acting Chief Stephen Doherty is reviewing the matter to determine if all police department policies and procedures were followed.

“Both myself and the Board of Selectmen have complete trust and faith in both those processes,” said Schiavi. “If there are any recommendations or areas of improvement or whatever that they will come out in those two processes.”

“The police department,” he added, “is providing excellent public safety service to the entire community and will continue to do so.”

Members of the Ashland CAC have been vocal critics of both Ashland selectmen and police, and have been steadfast supporters of former Police Chief Scott Rohmer.

Rohmer was placed on administrative leave by Schiavi on April 1, and the town did not renew Rohmer’s contract, which expired in June.

Rohmer was ousted amid legal complaints filed by current and former Ashland officers against him, the town, and other officers.

Fetherston said he had not spoken with Rohmer about the shooting.

The department is being run by Doherty, while the town searches for a permanent replacement.

Ashland CAC cofounder Margot Ellsworth denied using the shooting as a means to push an agenda. “We’re not pushing any particular agenda except fairness and honesty,” Ellsworth said.

She said she had no evidence that the shooting wasn’t a legitimate police action.

CAC members said they were frustrated by the town’s apparent silence on the shooting.

“All Ashland CAC tries to do is put the topic out there and let people make up their own mind,” Fetherston said. “We’re not accusing anybody of anything. We don’t have an official position on anything. We’re just trying to do fact-finding.”

Shortly before Stigliano was killed, he sent text messages to his attorney, Joe Hennessey, who in turn alerted police.

“He had been texting that he was going to harm police officers, and that he was not going to go alive,” Hennessey said in an interview after the press conference.

Hennessey said that Ashland Police did not respond correctly to the situation.

“Once Andrew ran into the home and took a defensive posture, they should have withdrew from the immediate area, set up a perimeter” and call for reinforcements, Hennessey said. “They had a barricaded suspect. … There was no rush to go in there.”

Hennessey, who was an Ashland policeman from 1984 to 1991, said the responding officers were trained on such a scenario, and there was no reason for it to end in bloodshed.

But Kesten said that, until Hennessey informed police that Stigliano was a danger, there was no reason for police to think this was a life-threatening situation.

“The result was brought upon by one person,” said Kesten, referencing Stigliano. “I don’t know what was going on in that young man’s head, and it’s very unfortunate.”

Lisa Kocian of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

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