Threats, hospitalization preceded police shooting
Upper Darby, Pa. — A man shot and killed by police after he tried to run down officers with his car in a Philadelphia suburb had posted an online video threatening to kill police and FBI agents and was previously committed to a mental health facility by his mother, the authorities said.
Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said officers feared 52-year-old Joseph Pacini would kill them and potentially harm bystanders Tuesday and that they “did what they had to do.” Together, five officers fired about 20 shots, he said. No officers were injured.
“Unfortunately, this guy made the threats. Unfortunately, this guy made the commitment to dying. Unfortunately, his wishes played out,” Chitwood said. “This is his call, not ours.”
Police with an arrest warrant for the man began following him after he left a home in nearby Clifton Heights, authorities said. Police said when officers stopped him at an intersection and ordered him out of the car, he reversed and slammed into a police vehicle and then prepared to run over other officers.
Officers ordered Pacini out of the car and he appeared ready to accelerate at them as they manned a blockade, authorities said. He did not have a weapon, but could have used the car to harm pedestrians or other motorists, Chitwood said.
“Who knows what could have happened?” he said.
Pacini posted three online videos with rambling messages and threats after a detective left a message for him regarding an altercation Monday at a fitness club, Chitwood said.
Pacini described the videos as a response to the message, saying in one that police had destroyed and tortured him and demanding the detective “back off.” In another, he declared that the singer Sara Bareilles was his soul mate.
If police tried arresting him, Pacini said, there would be “serious and irreversible catastrophic consequences,” including the deaths of law enforcement officers.
Police secured an arrest warrant Tuesday.
Pacini’s record included a 2005 arrest for locking his Philadelphia landlord in an office while facing eviction and demanding $1,500 at knifepoint to leave, Chitwood said. The charges were later withdrawn, according to court records.
Pacini was living with his mother when she had him involuntarily committed, Chitwood said. The date of the commitment was not immediately available. They were still living together in a Clifton Heights apartment at the time of his death.
“Certainly in his rant on the Dec. 29 YouTube where he threatened to kill any police, FBI or CIA that came after him, or their families, it was clear that those mental health issues were still affecting his life,” Chitwood said.
Chitwood said he felt the officers — two from his Upper Darby department, two from Haverford and one from Clifton Heights — were justified in using deadly force.
The Delaware County district attorney is investigating.
The Upper Darby officers will likely be given off until at least Monday, Chitwood said. They will be given crisis counseling and evaluated before returning to work, he said.
Pacini’s death comes a little more than a week after a man who made similar threats shot two New York Police Department officers dead in their patrol car and then killed himself in a subway station.
In the New York case, Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were ambushed on a Brooklyn street as they sat in their marked car on Dec. 20.
Their attacker, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, had referenced in online posts the high-profile killings by white police officers of unarmed black men, specifically Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner on Staten Island. Soon after the officers’ shooting Brinsley, who was black, killed himself.
Decisions by grand juries not to indict the officers involved in the killings of Brown and Garner have sparked protests around the nation, with demonstrators lying down in the streets as though they’re dead.
Pacini, who was white, didn’t reference those deaths in his online postings.