The family of a Newton Highlands man shot and killed by Newton police last year commemorated the first anniversary of his death with renewed calls last week for greater mental health and crisis training for police officers.
Michael Conlon, 28, was shot by Newton police officers on Jan. 5, 2021, inside the Lincoln Street building where he lived in Newton Highlands. Conlon was suffering a mental health crisis at the time, officials have said.
“It is impossible to describe in words how much we continue to miss Michael,” the Conlon family said in a statement as the first anniversary of his death approached. “Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and holidays all ring hollow, because of the grief that we experience every second, minute, and hour of every day.”
Conlon was shot after he threatened the owner of a candy store, then attacked officers with a knife and fire extinguisher, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said at the time. A clinician with mental health expertise from Newton police was at the scene but did not enter the building over safety concerns.
In December, the Middlesex District Attorney’s office announced in a statement that it had referred the case to an inquest before Newton District Court Judge Jeanmarie Carroll. The proceeding, which is not public, began last month, and its next session is scheduled for Jan. 27, the district attorney’s office said Tuesday.
Four Newton officers at the scene of the shooting were placed on administrative leave following Conlon’s death, including the two officers who shot Conlon.
Three of those officers remain out of work. The remaining officer has returned to duty, according to the city.
Two Massachusetts state troopers who were also at the scene were briefly placed on administrative leave before returning to duty..
Officials with the City of Newton and the Middlesex District Attorney’s office have declined to release police reports in the case, citing the ongoing investigation. The Newton officers involved in Conlon’s shooting have not been identified.
The district attorney’s office said that during the inquest proceeding, prosecutors will present evidence and call witnesses to testify. Conlon’s family is allowed to attend and hear the evidence, the office said.
At the completion of the inquest, Carroll is expected to make a finding, and the district attorney “will then use that finding in deciding whether to seek a Grand Jury indictment or to close the case,” the district attorney’s office said in December.
The Middlesex District Attorney’s office said it would make the court’s findings public through middlesexda.com at the conclusion of the case.
The Newton Police Reform Task Force, which had been formed before Conlon’s shooting, recommended several changes last March to the city’s police force including crisis intervention team training for “100 percent of sworn personnel.”
The report, which referred to Conlon’s death as a “horrible and traumatic event,” called for advanced mental health training for Newton officers, and said that an improved response to mental health related incidents should be a top priority for police and the city.
A survey of Newton Police Department members included in the report found “Mental Health Issues” were considered the most pressing problem for Newton by about 86 percent of respondents.
The Conlon family, in its statement, criticized Mayor Ruthanne Fuller for “merely” offering department members access to the crisis training recommended in the report.
Fuller, in a statement Wednesday, said the shooting was a painful memory for the city.
“On the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Conlon, the memory of this tragedy in Newton is painful. Our hearts go out to Michael’s family, especially today,” she said in the statement.
Fuller said Newton police and the city’s Health and Human Services Department are committed to the safety of the community and community members, including during crises “which can be unpredictable and dangerous.”
The city is committed to continuously improving its community policing, crisis response, and crisis prevention efforts, she said.
“Training in crisis intervention and emergency health crises is intensive and ongoing for all officers of the Newton Police Department,” Fuller said. “We also continue our efforts with Human Services staff and with the Newton Police Department to bolster connections to support services to prevent crises for people struggling with substance use, addiction, mental health challenges and domestic violence.”
Fuller also said it has been a difficult year for officers in the Newton Police Department.
In the family’s statement, the Conlon family pointed to the task force report’s recommendations for addressing emergency behavioral health crises.
“Our family believes people with mental illness deserve respect, compassion and understanding from society overall and specifically, from the police officers who have sworn to protect us,” the Conlon family said.
The Conlon family, which has previously called for mandatory crisis training for police, has said their loved one was a gentle soul who loved his family, and was a thoughtful and caring person.
“We now know the events of the last 26 minutes of Michael’s life,” the family said. “We hope no other family has to go through the same experience, but if the Newton Police Department does not address this issue, then we will not be the last.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.