DA Blodgett determines there is no basis to prosecute officer in last year’s shooting death of a Saugus woman
Stephanie Gerardi died in her Alfred Road home on Aug. 14 of last year after a Saugus Police Officer drew his gun and fired three shots at her, one of them striking her in the head. Officer Sean Murphy told investigators he feared for the lives of himself and fellow officer David Harris as the 38-year-old woman charged toward them with a large kitchen knife raised over her head.
It took about a year for Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett’s Office to complete its investigation into the officer-involved shooting death and issue a finding that Officer Murphy should not be held criminally responsible for Gerardi’s death. “Judging the actions of Officer Sean Murphy from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene and in that moment in time, the shooting of Stephanie Gerardi does not support criminal homicide charges against Officer Murphy,” Blodgett concluded in a five-page report detailing the year-long investigation.
“At the moment that he shot and killed Gerardi, Officer Murphy reasonably believed that his life and that of Officer David Harris were in imminent danger,” Blodgett said. “Based upon all of the evidence in this case, this Office will not pursue criminal charges against Officer Murphy.”
The investigation found that at 4:32 p.m. on August 14, 2021, Gerardi’s sister and cousin called police to report that Gerardi, whom Saugus Police had assisted in the past, was making suicidal statements, according to a recent press release issued by Blodgett’s office. Four Saugus Police Officers were dispatched to Gerardi’s home at 3 Alfred Rd., where they found her inside the home. After a brief conversation, Gerardi turned suddenly to the kitchen and got a large kitchen knife and proceeded to advance rapidly at the officers with the knife overhead.
Officer Murphy fired his weapon three times, killing Gerardi.
The investigation included a review of interviews with witnesses and responding Saugus and Lynnfield Police Officers, evidence collected at the scene, police radio transmissions, evidence and witness statements from the scene, information from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Massachusetts State Police Crime Scene Services, Crime Lab and Firearm Identification Section.
The District Attorney’s Office has referred the case to the Saugus Police Department for whatever internal administrative review is deemed appropriate.
(Editor’s Note: Below is the final report issued recently by Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett on his office’s investigation of the Aug. 14, 2021, fatal shooting of Stephanie Gerardi by Saugus Police Officer Sean Murphy.)
FINDINGS OF ESSEX COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY JONATHAN W. BLODGETT REGARDING OFFICER INVOLVED FATAL SHOOTING OF STEPHANIE GERARDI IN SAUGUS ON AUGUST 14, 2021.
The Essex District Attorney’s Office and the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Essex
District Attorney’s Office have concluded the investigation into the fatal shooting of Stephanie Gerardi, by the Saugus Police at 3 Alfred Road, Saugus on August 14, 2021.
Based upon a thorough review of the facts surrounding the shooting and application of the case law pertaining to the use of force to defend oneself or another, it is determined that officers reasonably believed Gerardi posed an immediate threat of killing or seriously injuring them or others. Accordingly, this office will not pursue criminal homicide charges against the officer who shot Gerardi.
Framework for the Investigation
The Essex District Attorney’s Office, by statute, has the duty and authority to oversee all death investigations in Essex County. The purpose of the investigation is solely to decide the narrow question whether criminal homicide charges against any of the involved officers are supportable under the law and could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
A determination as to whether the actions of the involved police officer could constitute a criminal act must be considered in light of the applicable case law on the use of force by law enforcement. To be a lawful use of deadly force, the actions of the officers must be objectively reasonable in light of all of the facts and circumstances confronting them at the scene. The determination of such reasonableness is judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene and in that moment in time and not through the perspective of hindsight. As stated by the United States Supreme Court, “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S, 386, 396-397 (1989).
The investigation included a review of the following: interviews of witnesses who were in contact with Stephanie Gerardi during the time leading up to the shooting and/or were in the home when the shooting occurred; interviews with the Saugus Police Officers and paramedics present at the scene at the time of the shooting and in the immediate aftermath; evidence found at the scene; Saugus Police radio transmissions; and reports of the Medical Examiner and Massachusetts State Police ballistician.
Stephanie Gerardi lived at 3 Alfred Road in Saugus with her two sisters, Deanna and Stacey; her two children; and Deanna’s thirteen-year-old son. She was 37 years old. When Stephanie1 was in her mid-twenties she began to show signs of mental illness leading to a diagnosis that she was bipolar with schizophrenic tendencies. Stephanie’s family had requested that Stephanie be sectioned pursuant to M.G.L. chapter 123, § 12(a) on multiple prior occasions. In the vast majority of these instances, this was done with the assistance of the Saugus Police. Stacey Gerardi had legal custody of Stephanie’s two children. Stacey also managed Stephanie’s medications and made sure that she took them daily as prescribed. At the time of her death Stephanie was prescribed lithium, olanzapine, and melatonin.
In the months and weeks leading up to her death, the Gerardi sisters became concerned that Stephanie was either not taking her medications or that her medications needed to be adjusted. Stacey Gerardi reached out to Stephanie’s prescriber with her concerns but did not receive a call back.
The Gerardi Family determines they need to have Stephanie sectioned
In the five months leading up to her death, Stephanie Gerardi’s sisters became increasingly concerned with her behavior. They observed her speech to be rapid and her behavior inconsistent. She would spend hours and hours cleaning her room and bathroom. The night before Stephanie died, Stacey heard her pacing and went upstairs to confront her. Stacey told Stephanie that she was getting sick again and that Stacey was going to call the next day. As it had been approximately two years since they had last sectioned Stephanie2, Stacey was unsure of how to go about doing it. At 1:13 PM on August 14, 2021, she reached out via messenger to Saugus Police Officer Dominic Montano, a longtime family friend, seeking advice. Montano initially suggested contacting Stephanie’s primary care doctor but Stacey responded that she did not have one. Montano then wrote “Okay then call it in to police. Tell them she’s suicidal. That will get her sectioned.” Stacey then expressed some concern as to whether she would be asked for details or whether she would be believed but it became clear that Montano was distracted by an event he was running at the time.
The call to the Saugus Police
Stacey called the Saugus Police at 4:32 PM on August 14, 2021. The call was made to the business line and, therefore, was not recorded. Dispatcher Henry Bilodeau took the call. Stacey was with her cousin, Sorina Viola, when she made the call and they report that both women were speaking. Bilodeau believed that he was only speaking to one party.
Bilodeau’s recollection of the call is that Stacey reported that her heavily intoxicated sister was walking up and down the street barefoot and talking to her herself. She reported that Stephanie was “going crazy.” When asked specifically what had happened that day to cause her to call, Stacey reported that her sister had made statements that she would hurt herself or others. She further warned that Stephanie usually runs out the back door and hides when police arrive. Later in the call Stacey reported that she had received a text message from the home that Stephanie was now back in the house.
Stacey’s recollection is that after removing herself and Stephanie’s young children from the home she met up with her boyfriend and with Viola. While the boyfriend tended to the kids, Stacey and Viola made the call from the car, parked on Lowell Street in Peabody, about five miles away. Stacey described herself as very nervous about making that call which is why she wanted Viola’s assistance. Stacey reported that she told the dispatcher that her sister was pacing the street barefoot and talking to herself. She further reported that she could not have the two children exposed to that. Viola further told the dispatcher that Stephanie was not eating or drinking but that she had been drinking alcohol the night before with a neighbor. Both women report warning the police that Stephanie would run out the back door.
As a result of the call, Bilodeau entered “Caller reports her sister has been drinking heavily and is making 05 statements.”3 Bilodeau dispatched four officers: Sean Murphy, Christopher Zelinski, David Harris, and Jacob Roy. Saugus Police officers are not equipped with Tasers nor are they equipped with body worn cameras. Bilodeau’s partner also dispatched an ambulance and noted that the address showed a “caution” in the Saugus PD in-house system so that the paramedics should stage nearby before being directed to go in.
Saugus Police respond to 3 Alfred Road
Stacey Gerardi’s call came in just as officers were completing roll call so all four officers left the station simultaneously and drove in tandem, in marked cruisers, towards 3 Alfred Rd. The officers did not utilize lights or sirens. Officer Zelinski was the most familiar with the address but all were aware that Stephanie had a history of running and could become combative when learning she was being sectioned. Officer Zelinski overshot the address and parked his cruiser in such a way that he could cut Stephanie off if she fled. The other three pulled up in the area of, but not in front of, 3 Alfred Road. As the most senior officer on scene, it was understood that Officer Murphy would take the lead role. Officer Roy went to the rear of the home in case Stephanie tried to run. As Officers Murphy and Harris approached on foot, they observed the front door open and saw Deanna Gerardi standing inside. Deanna gestured to her left and Stephanie emerged from the hallway. By this time Officers Murphy and Harris were in the home.
3 Alfred Road is a cape style single level home with a finished basement. As you enter the home the living room is to your left, directly ahead of you, down a short hall is the kitchen. Just before you reach the kitchen the hall turns to the right leading you to the bedrooms. There is a half wall that divides the front hall way from the living room. Above the half wall is a decorative wooden structure. As a result, once you are past the initial entrance and access to the living room, you are in a hallway leading to the kitchen. The hallway is narrow at 3.514 feet wide. This is where Officers Harris and Murphy had reached when Stephanie emerged. Officer Harris was abreast of but just behind Officer Murphy due to the narrow width of the hall.
As she emerged, Officer Murphy observed Stephanie to have something white and crusty around her mouth. It was immediately apparent to both officers that Stephanie was unwell. Deanna moved into the kitchen and busied herself with the trash as she did not want to watch Stephanie be taken into custody. Deanna’s 13-year-old son and boyfriend, James Piantedosi, were both in the house but in bedrooms with the doors shut at the time.
Stephanie greeted the officers and they responded in kind. Stephanie told Officer Murphy that he was handsome and asked if she could give him a hug. Officer Murphy responded something to the effect of that wouldn’t be a good idea with Covid. Stephanie turned to Officer Harris and said “I bet you have a big dick.” She then asked the officers “are you guys going to shoot me?” Officer Murphy told her not to be ridiculous and took a half step towards her to guide her away from the kitchen. As he did this Stephanie pivoted into the kitchen and Murphy saw her reaching towards a wooden block on the counter. Deanna heard a portion of the conversation between Stephanie and the officers and saw Stephanie reach for the knife but did not see what happened next. Stephanie turned back holding a large kitchen knife which she raised over her head; she began moving rapidly towards the officers in the hallway. Both officers un-holstered their guns and Murphy yelled at her to drop the knife.4 Officer Murphy tried to back up but Harris was behind him and both were trapped between the half wall and the hallway wall. Officer Murphy assured himself that Deanna was not in the line of fire and fired three times at Stephanie. Officer Harris did not fire only because he was concerned about firing over Officer Murphy. Stephanie collapsed to the floor and Officer Murphy radioed for the ambulance to be stepped up and went to render aid. Deanna was screaming. Deanna’s boyfriend emerged from a bedroom demanding to know what was going on and, in one officer’s account, Deanna stated in response to Piantedosi that “she charged them with a knife and they shot her.” Officer Roy had heard the shots and also entered the home. He and Officer Harris went to secure Deanna and Piantedosi in a bedroom. They realized Deanna’s 13-year-old son was in a bedroom and reunited him with the adults. Unbeknownst to Officers Murphy and Harris, EMTs had been stationed outside and were immediately directed into the home where they determined that Stephanie was already deceased. EMTs observed Stephanie on her back with one arm raised over her head. They observed ballistics evidence and a knife with blood in the vicinity of her body. They covered her with a sheet for the sake of the family.
Sergeant Steven Rappa was the OIC for the Saugus Police that evening. After roll call he returned to his office which is in the dispatch area. He was aware of the dispatch to 3 Alfred Road. As soon as he heard Officer Murphy requesting the ambulance be stepped up he raced to 3 Alfred Road. When he arrived, Officer Murphy was on the lawn. He entered the home and observed the knife and a shell casing. He then directed Officers Zelinsky and Roy to clear the home as it was now an active crime scene. Sergeant Rappa went outside and was walking Officer Murphy to an ambulance when Stacey Gerardi arrived and got out of the car screaming “what happened?” Both Sergeant Rappa and Officer Murphy heard Deanna Gerardi respond, “She ran at him with a knife, she ran at him with a knife.”
A total of 5 EMTs ultimately arrived at the scene in two vehicles. Their focus shifted once they pronounced Stephanie. Officers Murphy and Harris, though uninjured, were transported to the hospital per protocol. A second ambulance remained on scene to assist the family should they need any medical aid. One of the EMTs, Jeremy Salerno, reports that he overheard a woman who had been identified to him as one of Stephanie’s sisters on the phone with someone saying “she had a knife and they shot her,” Lynnfield police officer Scott Fitzemeyer arrived on scene as Deanna and other family members were being escorted from the home. He observed Stacey arrive and ask what had happened and heard Deanna respond, “she ran at them.”
Ballistics evidence collected from the scene consisted of three discharged shell casings and two projectiles. A third projectile was recovered at autopsy. A kitchen knife measuring eleven inches was also recovered at the scene.
The completed autopsy and toxicology reports were reviewed. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the cause of death of Stephanie Gerardi to be multiple gunshot wounds. She was shot once in the head and twice in the torso. Stephanie’s toxicology was notable for the absence of the presence of any ethanol.
Judging the actions of Officer Murphy from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene and in that moment in time, the shooting of Stephanie Gerardi does not support criminal homicide charges against Officer Murphy. At the moment that he shot and killed Gerardi, Officer Murphy reasonably believed that his life and that of Officer Harris were in imminent danger. Based upon all of the evidence in this case, this Office will not pursue criminal homicide charges against Officer Murphy.
Footnotes to the report
1 Because Ms. Gerardi shares a last name with two witnesses, she will be referred to by her first name throughout this memorandum.
2 Saugus Police records indicate they last assisted in sectioning Stephanie on February 19, 2019.
3 “QS statements” generally refer to suicidal statements.
4 Deanna Gerardi denies hearing the officers give any verbal commands to Stephanie once she was armed.
Please note: Some typographical errors in the report have been corrected and the footnotes have been moved to the end.