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Cape Cod Times
By DOUG FRASER
Posted Jul. 27, 2008 at 2:00 AM
The summer of 2006, David Hill was in free-fall. Handsome, 6 feet tall, with dark hair and a lanky athletic frame, Hill appeared built for success. But his sense of his place in the world had been eroded since childhood, first by Attention Deficit Disorder and hyperactivity, then violent mood swings, then depression when he got older. His family sent him to psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals. They prescribed Ritalin, Zoloft and anti-depressants, each with the broken promise of some return to normalcy.
“What’s wrong with me?” he’d ask family members.
Hill “self-medicated” his depression with alcohol. Then, the anger would erupt like it did on July 17, 2006, when a drunken Hill made threatening phone calls to acquaintances of an ex-girlfriend, living in Virginia. He reportedly told Norfolk, Va., police that he had a gun and that “things were going to get bad and (they) would be reading about it in the newspaper.” The threats prompted a S.W.A.T. team to surround his father’s Eastham home and capture Hill.
“Anyone else looking at this would probably think, ‘What an idiot! Can’t you see it’s not stopping?'” said his mother, Martha Hill. “But I just loved him so much. I wanted him to be happy.”
Like many families whose children are afflicted with mental illness, the Hills were addicted to hope. Life had become a roller coaster, diving down with David’s deep depressions, only to climb a little into the sunlight when he momentarily recovered footing, everyone hoping it would last.
In childhood photos, he is all smiles. “He was a very happy little person,” Martha Hill said.
The turning point in his mental health, both parents believe, was a brutal beating they say he experienced from an older student at Nauset Regional Middle School that left him feeling alienated and distrustful of others.
“He never felt good about himself after that,” his mother said.
Yet, just a year before his fatal confrontation with police, Hill seemed on the verge of finding his way. He was earning a good salary as a computer programmer, he had a girlfriend, and he’d moved into his own apartment.
“Everyone was thinking he was on track,” said his older sister, Leah Richardson.
Then, depression came calling. Hill tried to drink his blues away, and, under the influence, he e-mailed a nasty note to his boss and was fired.
He never really recovered from the blow. In the last year of his life, Hill worked at the Box Lunch in Eastham, his father’s restaurant, making half-hearted attempts at finding more computer work, and entered a series of one-sided relationships with the Eastern European students his father employed.
With the Europeans, David Hill felt he had that fresh start, free of the back story of failures and setbacks that can be stigmatizing in a small town.
“He wanted to feel he could do things for people. It made him feel good about himself,” said Irina Nekrylova, a 22-year-old Russian student who worked for Gerard Hill and lived in the house for nearly three years. To Nekrylova, Hill was unfailingly loyal and expected people to be the same to him. That they often didn’t measure up was a constant source of disappointment.
The ultimate betrayal, in his eyes, occurred when his parents brokered a deal with the court and the police to have him committed to Bridgewater State Hospital for 30 days, following the Virginia incident. But he was treated for alcoholism, not depression, as his parents were promised, they said, and the time there hardened him against the possibility he could be redeemed.
As Hill was led away from the court in handcuffs to be taken to the hospital, his parents were torn between misgivings and hope.
“The look he gave me was so sad, because I was his buddy. I would always try to help him, but he looked at me like ‘Oh my God, help me,'” Martha Hill said.
So she was surprised when her son visited her Jefferson, Maine, home the weekend of Oct. 13, 2006, that things went so well.
“It was pleasant,” she said, a blissful throwback to childhood, when he was the boy with the sad eyes, but an easy smile and a tendency to stand up for the underdogs.
They went out to eat, took care of the goats, chickens and other animals she kept on her property.
On the last day she would ever see her son alive, Martha Hill lingered over her farewell.
She just couldn’t stop with her usual hug and a kiss goodbye.
“I said, ‘Oh, wait a minute,’ and gave him another hug and a kiss. And then I said, ‘I have to give you one more.'”
And that was it.
“Two days later, he was dead.”
Probably, David Hill already knew where his future lay, as he drove back from Jefferson to his father’s home. On the way, he stopped at a country store in Windsor, Maine, to buy a used Beretta .40 caliber handgun.
When he crossed into Massachusetts, a state trooper stopped him for speeding but didn’t see the weapon. However, ticked off by Hill’s disrespectful attitude, the officer, who had looked up his record, told him he’d be going to jail when he came up for trial at the end of the month on an assault and battery charge connected with the July incident.
In his own timeline reconstructing his son’s final day, Gerard Hill wrote that David “says that if he goes to court on the 30th he will be put in jail and in jail he will be raped and he would rather be dead.”
Gerard Hill believed, for reasons valid or not, that the police were not inclined to be sympathetic to his son. So, as he watched his troubled offspring fall apart as that final day wore on into a final night, he never called them.
“Every man who was out there will remember that night for the rest of their lives,” Eastham Police Chief Richard Hedlund said.
At about 8:30 p.m., Eastham police Sgt. Mark Haley called the chief at home to tell him someone had fired gunshots at the police station. Within an hour, Hill’s uncle, Mansfield police Officer Richard Hopkins, called Eastham police to identify his nephew as the shooter.
“We all know David,” Hedlund said in a subsequent interview. “We all know he is capable of that.”
Hedlund, who lives near the Hill home, knew David Hill had a few run-ins with police before but concern was ratcheted up after the July stand-off.
Still, the Hill family maintains that David was more of a danger to himself than to others.
“He wouldn’t hurt someone else. He wouldn’t,” Martha Hill said. “I know people don’t know that, but I know that.”
By 10 p.m., the Eastham chief had called in the county S.W.A.T. team, requested help from other departments, and ordered his officers to set up roadblocks on the streets leading to the Hill home.
If police were tense, watching their backs as they collected shell casings and other evidence on the highway in front of the station, David Hill suddenly seemed the opposite. He was almost ecstatic with relief.
As the night progressed, it seemed to Gerard Hill that whatever high his son got from firing at the police station was wearing off. But even as David Hill was reassuring his father that nothing more was going to happen that night, less than a mile up the road, Sgt. Haley and Officer Adam Bohannon were stopping the car driven by Irina Nekrylova.
Returning from a night course at Cape Cod Community College, Nekrylova knew nothing of the night’s events. Haley recognized her as a tenant at the Hill home and asked for David Hill’s cell phone number. Accustomed to a more brutal police force in her own country, she was scared, for herself and for Hill.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “I said, ‘I think I have a right not to give it to you.'”
When she tried to call Hill to ask him why police wanted his phone number, Nekrylova said Haley and Bohannon started yelling at her.
“They said, ‘Who are you calling? Don’t call him,'” she said, adding Haley grabbed her phone and kept it.
“(Haley) said, ‘OK, you can go to the house and tell David we are looking for him, and for him to call us,'” Nekrylova said.
Sending an unarmed civilian back to a home occupied by a person with a weapon he has already fired at a police station was the wrong thing to do, said criminal justice experts Sean Varano, an assistant professor at Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice, and Tom Nolan, an assistant professor at Boston University’s College of Criminal Justice.
“If I live to be 100, I’ll never understand why that officer let her go back into the house,” agreed an angry Richard Hopkins, Hill’s uncle and a Mansfield police officer with 20 years experience. “If he’s so dangerous that they don’t want to go near the house, but they let her go back in?”
And why, Hopkins said, did no one bother to call Gerard or David Hill when they had both their cell and home phone numbers?
“We had a good dialog going with Rich (Hopkins) and with his mother (Martha Hill),” Hedlund said. “The tendency in police work is that when something is working, you stick with it.”
On police tapes, officers repeatedly say Hedlund is going to call the house. But Hedlund is barraged with other phone calls: from officers, reporters, family members and never gets to make the call.
“I’m trying to get people away from me, so that I can try and call David’s father and find out what’s going on,” he complains to Barnstable police Sgt. Michael Damery, the S.W.A.T. team commander, in a recorded phone call. But Damery said in a subsequent interview they never advocate contacting the hostage-taker until all police resources are in place.
Within 15 to 20 minutes, most of the roads leading to the Hill home would be sealed off, but Nekrylova saw no police, and no roadblocks after Haley let her go. David Hill was waiting in the driveway, “acting strange,” holding a gun and his cell phone, and peering into the darkness to see whether anyone else was with her.
“I knew he didn’t want to do anything to me,” she said.
When Nekrylova relayed Haley’s message, it prompted an immediate reaction from Hill.
“Oh no, they know about me. They know it was me,” he said to her. He ran upstairs and put on a bulletproof vest.
“‘OK,’ he said when he came downstairs. ‘This is over.'”
Nekrylova ran downstairs to ask Gerard Hill what was going on. They both thought David would be in the car, smoking and thinking as he always did. But when Gerard Hill saw no tell-tale glow of a cigarette in the empty car, he knew his son was gone.
It was about 10 p.m.
Haley’s mission, on orders from Chief Hedlund, was to contain Hill until the S.W.A.T. team arrived. At 10:20 p.m., Haley broadcast that all of the area around the Hill home was secured. But unlike the previous stand-off in July, there was no officer assigned to watch the home. Everyone was deployed out of sight of the house, one-quarter of a mile to almost a half-mile away.
Gerard Hill, at that point, was the only one who knew for certain that David Hill had left the house. That would only change an hour later when, at 11:02 p.m., Hopkins called Eastham police and informed the dispatcher his nephew had walked off into the woods, unchallenged, unseen.
A former Boston police lieutenant, Nolan said confining a hostage-taker to an area and making contact, offering options, should have been the local officers primary objective, even before the tactical team arrived.
But police were no longer dealing with a person they thought they knew, Varano said. By firing on their police station, David Hill had crossed the line and become truly dangerous. Police were right in being cautious, he said.
“This is the worst-case scenario for police,” Varano said. “An individual with an apparent history of mental illness and known to be violent, and armed, with potential hostages.”
Even though Gerard Hill refused to contact police, Martha Hill and her brother, Richard Hopkins, remained in close contact.
For Martha Hill, who was talking regularly with her son right up to a few minutes before his death, this was a high wire act with enormous personal stakes. By giving police the information they needed, her son’s location, his state of mind, she was also possibly aiding in his death. But she was reassured by Hedlund that they did not want to kill her son.
“My thoughts were on just saving Dave. They kept saying to tell them everything. To get back on the phone and get in touch with Dave and tell them everything. And I did,” Martha Hill said.
The hunt had turned back on the hunters. With Hill roaming the woods, armed and potentially dangerous, police now had to watch their backs.
“He’s packing and he’s apparently going to take someone out,” Hedlund told Haley.
At the moment when he was most alone, David Hill felt the need to talk. Skirting roadblocks, walking through the woods for nearly two hours, he dialed friends, talked to his father and repeatedly called his mother. His mind seemed to be going back and forth between the reality and the absurdity of his situation, between wanting to die and hoping he could get back home.
To a friend, he denied shooting at the station, saying it was crazy. He told his father he wanted to come home, but he also said he could see two cops and that “‘they are so stupid,’ he could kill them right now and they’d never know what happened.”
After telling his mother he saw an officer standing alone and was going to take him hostage, she called the station to warn them.
But he also told her he was tired. That he saw a log, that the grass on the other side of the log looked soft and that he was going to lie down.
Although they were only a little more than a quarter-mile from the Hill home at the intersection of Herringbrook Road and Samoset Road, Orleans police Officer Anthony Manfredi and Truro police Officer Nicholas Ambrosini were supposed to be far from the action. Their main job was to keep traffic from going up the road to the Hill home.
Narrow back roads snaked off into the darkness from the intersection, lit by a lone streetlight. Manfredi used his cruiser to block the road leading back to the Hill home, and they laid out stop sticks to puncture Hill’s tires if he attempted to escape by car.
Just five years out of the Weymouth police academy, Manfredi had already assumed a leadership position, training officers in how to shoot and maintain their weapons. He carried a sidearm and a semi-automatic .22 caliber patrol rifle. Ambrosini was less than two years out of the Weymouth academy and had been a Truro officer for two and a half years.
At one point, Ambrosini left Manfredi on his own as he escorted another officer and a dog up the road to a position closer to the Hill home. When he returned, he brought the chilling news that Hill had left the house and could see a police officer standing alone.
The two officers retreated from the light near a large tree at the border of the woods. Several times they had to leave the protective cover of the woods to give drivers directions around the road block.
At 11:30, they radioed into Eastham dispatch, “We hear some kind of movement in the woods at our intersection.”
A few minutes later, the officers heard the rustling of leaves and a branch breaking in the woods behind them.
The pair decided on a plan. Manfredi walked along Samoset Road, toward First Encounter Beach, scanning the woods with his flashlight. Ambrosini knelt down, moving into the woods on his knees, then stood up and took a step. That’s when he heard Manfredi yell.
Twenty feet down the road, Manfredi’s flashlight illuminated first a pair of legs, then Hill’s body, lying flat on his stomach behind a fallen log, facing the officer’s position at the intersection.
David Hill’s roller coaster ride was driving hard toward its last stop. He knew the officer would see the Israeli-made white bulletproof vest he’d purchased on eBay. He would be forced into a kill shot.
“Police, don’t move … show me your hands, show me your hands … drop the gun.”
“They’re going to cap me,” David Hill had told his mother by cell phone earlier that night.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Shoot me in the head.”
Ambrosini heard Manfredi yell “show me your hands” twice, then shout “he’s got a gun, he’s got a vest.”
Then, he heard the shots.
Manfredi told state police investigators that Hill didn’t comply with any of his commands, instead starting to stand up and raising the Beretta toward him.
“He turned toward me with his weapon and fearing for my life I fired my weapon in his direction,” he told them in an interview immediately after the shooting. Manfredi wasn’t sure whether he had fired seven or eight shots, but they came in two bursts, with four, or as many as six, in the first volley.
Hill fell into a seated position. In total, Hill would suffer five wounds, with the “kill” shot to his head penetrating his skull and brain from the back, exiting through the front. In the first volley, he’d probably been shot a couple of times, possibly in the left shoulder, left arm, left forearm and left thumb.
In Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe’s recreation of the shooting, Hill flinched, his head twisting away from the shots so that the back of his head momentarily faced the police shooter.
Gerard Hill doesn’t buy it. He thinks his son never pointed his weapon at Manfredi and contends David Hill was shot from behind while trying to flee for his life. That will never be proven, attorneys have told him. Without another witness, it’s Manfredi’s recollection that stands.
Manfredi told the state police investigator that he was trained to “engage the target, move towards the threat and shoot until the threat is stopped.”
Haley saw a “visibly shaken” Manfredi, still carrying his rifle, when he arrived on scene a few minutes later.
“I asked Officer Manfredi if he was OK. He stated, ‘No, he pointed his gun at me,” Haley recalled.
“Well, he got what he wanted. He couldn’t do it himself, so he had the cops do it for him,” Gerard Hill reportedly told state police when he was told his son was dead.
The number of people killed by police in Massachusetts each year is so small that the state doesn’t keep records, and the number who use police for their own suicidal ends is even smaller, said David Bible, spokesman for The Fusion Center, which collects statistics from police departments across the state for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Nationwide, roughly 10 percent of the 600 police shootings a year are considered “suicide by cop” incidents.
“I’ve talked to officers who have never taken their gun from its holster in their entire career,” Bible said. To actually shoot and kill someone is something officers sometimes never recover from, he said.
“They believe that if they commit ‘suicide by cop’ they are not really committing suicide,” said Mark Lindsay, co-author of a 2004 book on the subject.
“No one went out there with the idea that they were going to kill
David Hill that night,” Chief Hedlund said. “It’s a tragedy, for the police family, for the Hill family, and for the town.”
But that is hardly the end of the story. The death of a citizen at the hands of police, especially a native son, opens fault lines with aftershocks felt by the family, the neighborhood and the community long afterward.
While sympathetic with Gerard Hill’s grief, neighbors and other townspeople feuded with Hill and selectmen over the appropriateness of allowing a memorial to remain on the site of the fatal shooting. David Hill had, after all, fired on the police station.
O’Keefe declared the shooting a justifiable homicide in his investigation, but that doesn’t mean much to the man who pulled the trigger.
“Police officers are very impacted by this, the internal affairs post-shooting investigation, second guessing by the public and media, and lawsuits,” Lindsay said.
They even fall victim to their own internal investigation, experts said. Did they do enough to save the person?
There is also anger over being used by someone to commit suicide.
“You wouldn’t want someone as a police officer in your town who wouldn’t be shaken by shooting or killing a citizen,” said Manfredi’s attorney, Joseph Donnellan. “Tony Manfredi is a human being and this has certainly touched him.”
“His role was to man a post and that’s what he did. He held his post and the action came to him,” Donnellan added.
To Hedlund, Manfredi is a hero who prevented David Hill from harming or killing someone else before he got what he really wanted, to be shot to death himself.
While other police and fire departments trumpeted their award winners to their local newspapers, there was no press release from Orleans police when Manfredi received a medal of honor from Gov. Deval Patrick on Oct. 29, 2007. Hedlund was present at the ceremony and said there was no smile on Manfredi’s face when he stepped up to get the award.
“David was calling the shots, it was in his hands,” Hedlund said. “But Officer Manfredi will carry it for life.”
Orleans Police Chief Jeffrey Roy has forbidden department personnel from discussing the Hill case with reporters. That includes Manfredi, Donnellan said.
Martha Hill has to live with the fact the information she relayed to police may have contributed to her son’s death.
“It’s been a year and a half, and there’s not a day that I’m not in some kind of grief,” she said, crying. She keeps his ashes in her home. He will be buried with her in the Hopkins family plot in Nova Scotia.
“He always wanted to be with me,” she said.
Gerard Hill has been very public in his own grief. He’s dressed all in black ever since his son was killed. He believes he did the best he could that night.
He has pursued his own investigation, hiring a medical examiner to track the path of the bullets, having a surveyor recreate the exact position of Manfredi and his son, consulting with attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union.
But he’s been rebuffed on every legal front.
He recently filed a $100,000 claim against the town, alleging that he was illegally detained by police after the July 17 incident.
As a result of the furor over the memorial at the site of his son’s death, he put up a large stone on his property next to the road. Set into the stone, facing the street, is a brass plaque etched with David’s image, a short biography and a statement that he was “tragically shot to death by police.”
A banner over the stone says “Justice Will Prevail.” Someone had crossed off the “will” and replaced it with “did” on a previous banner.
This past spring, Gerard Hill returned to the spot where his son died. Sitting in the grass just off the edge of the road, on the other side of the fallen, decaying pine log, his arms embracing his knees, Hill gazed across the marsh at the big sky over Cape Cod Bay.
A small white plastic cross and a bouquet of faded silk flowers sprout from the turf at his left elbow. At his back, a ragged, precisely angled cut in the bark of thorny locust sapling traces the path of a bullet.
A few days after David died, his father mustered up enough courage to go to this spot with a friend. Tracing the angle of the cut in the locust sapling, his friend touched the grass, searching for a bullet, and his hand came up bloody. Gerard Hill removed a square foot of the sod and had it frozen.
“It’s the only part of Dave I have,” he said.