Witness to shooting says it was attempted 'suicide by police'
BENNINGTON -- A knife-wielding man who survived being shot in the abdomen by Bennington Police Tuesday night had asked them to kill him earlier that morning.
According to an affidavit by State Police made public Friday, Gregory Filo, 42, of Safford Street went to the Bennington Police Department at 118 South St. at 6:49 a.m. and spoke to Cpl. Joshua Stemp. "Filo asked Stemp to kill him because he was in pain and had not been sleeping well," reads the affidavit by Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Jean-Paul Schmidt. "In a report written by Stemp, he notes that Filo agreed to speak with a counselor at (Southwestern Vermont Medical Center) after leaving the (Police Department)."
Where Filo went after he left the hospital is unclear.
Kevin Robinson, a spokesman for SVMC, said federal law prohibits him from disclosing information on Filo, or any patient. "What I can say is that the public should avoid drawing any conclusions from the limited information provided in the affidavit," Robinson said Friday. "Furthermore, I can say that SVMC has policies and procedures in place to assist patients facing medical or mental health crises. These resources include an emergency department staffed with board-certified emergency physicians, a full complement of life-saving technology, and access to mental health counselors from United Counseling Service who are trained in crisis intervention."
A call made to the United Counseling Service was not returned Friday.
According to Schmidt's affidavit, at approximately 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Filo entered the lobby of the Bennington Police Department appearing upset and tried to get Patrol Sgt. Michael Plusch, who was in the dispatcher center, to come out and meet with him. Because of how Filo was acting, Plusch consulted with Officers Thomas Bull and Keith Diotte to see if they knew Filo. As this was happening, Charles Coppolino, 59, who says he is a close friend of Filo's, entered the lobby and sat down in a chair by the door.
While Plusch and the other officers were discussing how to deal with Filo, he remained in the lobby within sight of dispatchers Elizabeth Zwinenburg and Christina Gabrus. Zwinenburg told police she lost sight of Filo, but then heard Gabrus shout, "He stabbed him." Zwinenburg told police this over the radio and summoned a rescue squad as they entered the lobby.
"Plusch, Bull, and Diotte quickly organized and entered the lobby. When they did, Filo turned toward them. Filo held the knife raised up in the air over his head with the blade pointed down. He did not respond to officer commands to drop the knife, get down, etc. Filo advanced on the officers with the knife raised as if he was going to strike them. Plusch fired his departmental sidearm, striking Filo in the abdomen area," Schmidt wrote.
Filo was taken to Albany Medical Center in Albany, N.Y., where is in stable condition, according to Coppolino, who spoke to the Banner Friday.
According to the affidavit, Coppolino told police he was afraid Filo was going to stab him, however Coppolino contradicted this during the Banner interview.
"He wouldn't sit down, he kept pacing back and forth, not saying a word, then finally I stood up, and I said, ‘Greg, come on, let's go.' And he was standing about three feet away from me, and he took the knife out of his pocket and raised it up over his head in an arcing motion, but at no time did I have any fear that he was going to stab me. None whatsoever. The State Police asked me on a scale of one to 10 how fearful was I and I told ‘em it didn't even apply," said Coppolino.
"He's as gentle as a lamb, that man," said Coppolino. "He won't even kill a bug. If a moth gets into his apartment he'll get a jar and trap it and take it outside."
According to Coppolino, he has lived in an apartment building on Safford Street for the past five years. Two years ago he met Filo, who was referred to their landlord, Bill Driscoll, by United Counseling Service.
The two met because of a mutual acquaintance.
"He told me, candidly, (Filo) has a tendency to isolate, and he said, ‘don't let him isolate,' so that night I knocked on his door and I said, ‘Do you want to come over to my apartment and listen to some classic rock and roll?' and he said, ‘Sure,' so he came over and the friendship was kicked off from there," said Coppolino.
Both he and Filo battle manic depression, but Filo has other mental health issues. Coppolino said they have grown to be like brothers and look to each other for support.
Coppolino said he believes Filo stopped taking his medication and wanted to commit "suicide via police."
"For two months prior to this incident he was as level as a pool table," said Coppolino. According to him, people who take medication, especially for manic depression, sometimes think that once they start feeling better they can stop taking their medication.
He said Filo is a devout Catholic, attending Mass on a daily basis at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington.
"He did what he did because he wanted to commit suicide, but he didn't want to die by his own hand, because according to the Catholic religion, you commit suicide you go to Hell," said Coppolino.
According to Coppolino, Filo confided in him about a suicide attempt he made in the past.
"He was unconscious, they had to pump his stomach out. I asked, ‘What did that feel like?' He said, ‘I went to Hell.' I didn't know exactly what he meant by that, but that's exactly what he told me," said Coppolino.
The night of the incident, Coppolino saw Filo put a serrated steak knife in his pocket. "He says he has to ‘go take care of something.' And I said, ‘Greg, where are you going?' He kept repeating that and carrying the knife around with him, so I pursued him down Main Street, I tried to coax him to get into my car, asked him about what his destination was, what his intent was," said Coppolino.
Filo asked Coppolino for him to tell everyone he loved them, but besides that he could get nothing except, "I have something to take care of."
Coppolino lost sight of him when Filo entered the police station, but found him in the lobby pacing in front of the dispatcher window. He said when Filo came up to him, he said, "Chuck, get out of here."
Coppolino said the three officers who came into the lobby were seven feet from Filo. He claims Filo did not advance on them, or if he did it was only by an inch. He said Filo moved the knife with his wrist, but did not bring his arm downward. The standoff went on for about 90 seconds before Filo was shot. Coppolino said the bullet hit Filo on his right side, just above his belt line.
"My feelings, my emotions at the time this happened, at first it was astonishment and shock that he'd been shot, then I felt an upwelling of anger at the police that they didn't try an alternative method of diffusing the situation," he said.
Coppolino was handcuffed briefly and searched for weapons.
Filo had been seeing a doctor at the United Counseling Service and to Coppolino appeared happy with his treatment. He said Filo is highly educated, a graduate of Rutgers University who attended Ohio State Medical School, but suffered a nervous breakdown he never fully recovered from. Filo is unable to work and has a low self-esteem because of it, said Coppolino.
He has not spoken with Filo since the incident, but has been communicating with Filo's father.
As per protocols, Vermont State Police have been investigating the incident. Plusch has been placed on paid administrative leave, as per department policies, while authorities review the matter. The Vermont Attorney General's Office will conduct a review once State Police complete their investigation.
On Thursday, the Bennington County State's Attorney's Office filed two aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charges against Filo and a judge issued a warrant for his arrest and to hold him without bail pending an arraignment hearing. It not clear if Filo has been assigned an attorney.
Police spoke to Filo on Thursday at Albany Medical Center but he was unable to sustain a conversation, but he did say, "I didn't mean any harm to the officers, I wanted to die."
Plusch, Bull, and Diotte said they feared for their safety. Diotte said he would have fired his weapon, but Plusch had moved in front of him.
The blade of the knife held by Filo was four and a half inches long, police said.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd gave a press conference Thursday where he said the police station's lobby is monitored by cameras, but they do not record.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.