Early in the evening of December 30, 2014, Joseph Pacini of Clifton Heights, PA was shot to death by the police in Drexel Hill. They were after him because he made threats to the police on three Youtube videos. After watching the videos, I posted my initial thoughts:
To me, it appears as though Pacini is severely mentally unstable.
Pacini’s ex-girlfriend, Lauren, reached out to me and told me that my feelings were correct. As it had been reported and then confirmed by Lauren, Joseph had been suffering from Huntington’s disease, an inherited condition that negatively affects motor skills and causes an increasing inability of the mind to function rationally. Pacini’s father committed suicide at the age of 52 after being diagnosed. His younger sister is currently in full nursing care because of it. His older sister, however, has not been affected.
The man that Lauren described was much different from the man we saw in the videos. What we saw in the videos was the disease. The real Joseph was a kind, gentle person who would do anything for a friend. He also had run a business, but things started to change some years ago and he began acting like somebody different. Knowing that it was the disease that was changing him, Lauren continued to be friends with Pacini until he died and also maintained contact with his family. She claims he was never violent, but he did suffer from outbursts brought on by Huntington’s with one such outburst causing his mother to call the police to get help from crisis intervention.
Ironically, it was this outburst that should have helped keep Joseph Pacini alive today. This call would have made the police take note of a possible mental issue so that they keep it on record for the future. It would have brought some sense to the Youtube videos he created. Based on the way they chose to engage Pacini without seeking someone else to intervene beforehand, they decided the mental illness didn’t matter.
This is troublesome for several reasons. As I had said previously, “Given Pacini’s obvious unstable mental condition and his statement that he would rather be killed than go back to prison*, deadly violence was all but guaranteed if the police attempted to engage him,” the police were the wrong people to be the first to attempt to engage him. And then to make their mistake even worse, they were unable to apprehend him at his home before he got into his car. If it were just bad timing, they should have fallen back and waited for another opportunity. By pursuing Pacini in his car, they could have caused a chase—a very dangerous prospect in a very densely populated area of Upper Darby. On top of that, they gave him the opportunity to potentially use his car as a weapon, which was their justification for use of deadly force.
I carefully used the phrase “potentially use his car as a weapon” because we do not know exactly how the stop happened. Did Pacini actually ram his car into the police cruiser or did he accidentally back into it in a panic when he saw the blockade in front of him? How closely was the cruiser following behind him? When he moved forward again, was he actually trying to hit the police officers or was he driving in their general direction in an attempt to escape? The answers to these questions are hugely important. If you believe that the police were correct in engaging him in the first place, they mean the difference between justified use of force and murder.
This is why is absolutely imperative for the Haverford, Clifton Heights, and Upper Darby police departments to release any and all dashcam footage of the incident. The police killed a man, so it’s quite natural for the people responsible for the death to spin what happened in their favor. Dashcam footage would provide much needed objectivity.
The other issue at hand is how callously the police officers were ordered into such danger by their superiors. It’s bad enough that the order was given to serve a warrant for a situation that was all but guaranteed to end violently, but it is disgraceful that they would also call for backup from another department without mentioning the key factor of mental illness in play. People refer to how this went down as “good police work,” but how good does Upper Darby police superintendent Michael Chitwood think it would be if one of his men were seriously injured or killed? Yes, police work has the potential to be dangerous, but it is criminal to put people in danger when it is not absolutely necessary.
Things do not seem right here. How could the police have been so ignorant of Pacini’s mental illness? How could they be so careless to execute a pursuit in a highly populated neighborhood and business area and then fire off at least 22 shots?
There are even rumors that one of the police officers involved feels so distraught over what happened that he is considering resigning from the force.
Let’s not forget Joseph Pacini. We can’t bring him back, but if we bring some accountability to the police, then maybe we can prevent something like this from happening again. This isn’t about revenge. This is about saving lives.
*For the record, Pacini had never served time in prison.
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