SPRINGFIELD — Public and police officials turned their anger and frustration toward the court system the day following a series of events that left a Springfield police officer with serious injuries and resulted in numerous arrests and firearm seizures.

A rash of violence involving multiple scenes throughout the city on June 5 included three different incidents in which police were the target of gunfire and officer Nestor Santos was shot in the face and leg. While injuries were described as non-life threatening, police said they would likely result in the loss of vision in one eye. During the subsequent investigation and pursuit, the driver of a car containing three suspects struck two Massachusetts Department of Transportation employees working in the city’s South End, seriously injuring one. Police also reported undisclosed injuries to one bystander.

In all, seven suspects were apprehended — including a 16-year-old juvenile — and seven firearms were recovered. Police Superintendent Lawrence Akers said at a press conference the next day that one of those guns was an “AR-15 style” rifle. Public information released by police also revealed two weapons found at the scene in the South End were equipped with “Glock switches,” devices that give the user the option to turn the gun into an automatic weapon.

Police said five of the suspects had been previously arrested on firearms charges, the juvenile was out on bail in connection with a shooting and another had an outstanding firearms warrant. Mayor Domenic Sarno praised officers’ bravery and resilience while heavily criticizing the courts at the press conference.

Akers started the conference before needing to pause to compose himself and let Sarno take the podium.
With the events taking place a day after the anniversary of the murder of Springfield police officer Kevin Ambrose, Sarno pointed to a pin on his lapel commemorating Ambrose’s death and said he was relieved the previous night’s violence didn’t result in another death.

“And again, the inaction of the court system and of some of our judges just emboldens these individuals,” he said. “They feel they can do whatever they want to do not only to our brave and dedicated police officers but to our residents and businesses because they face no repercussions whatsoever.”

Police Capt. Brian Keenan, head of the Firearms Investigations Unit, strongly echoed the mayor’s sentiments, accusing the courts of “promoting uncivilized behavior.” He said incidents in which police have been the target of gunfire have increased of late, estimating three to four instances over the past six months.

“There’s zero fear,” he said. “We debrief most suspects that we arrest and they all [say] the same thing — there’s zero fear of incarceration by the criminal element out there. That’s why they act with impunity. They know if they flee from the police, they ram cars and they hit DOT workers, they’re not going to get 15 more seconds in jail than if they don’t.”

On June 7, state Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield) lent his voice to the chorus, renewing his call to adopt the Senate’s repeat violent-firearm offenders amendment that is designed to ensure that repeat violent offenders of gun crimes can be detained until their trial if they have violated the conditions of their release. Adopted by the state Senate earlier this year as part of its gun bill, the amendment is currently being considered by the Legislature’s gun reform conference committee.

“The chaos that occurred on Wednesday evening further demonstrates the need for my amendment targeting repeat violent firearm offenders to be included in the Legislature’s final gun reform package,” he said. “These crimes, like the one in Springfield, continue to be overwhelmingly committed by repeat offenders who have no regard for our gun laws — or human life — and it is past time that we have a mechanism to address this and protect our communities.”

Violent night

According to police, the first instance of gunfire occurred at approximately 10:40 p.m. on June 5. Members of the FIU were conducting an unrelated investigation in an unmarked cruiser on College Street when they were shot at by individuals in a Honda Civic.

Detectives assisting in the effort to locate the Civic were confronted by occupants of a Jeep Cherokee who fired at their unmarked cruiser near the intersection of State Street and Hunter Place; the cruiser was struck five times by gunfire but officers were not. Among the weapons allegedly fired at police was the AR15-style weapon. Shortly thereafter, Santos, who, came across the shooting on his way to work, was shot by the assailants. He drove and stopped his car on the 600 block of State Street where officers aided him and transported to the hospital.

Detectives located the Civic in the area of Riverview Terrace and took three occupants into custody an Interstate 91 on ramp, but not before the driver allegedly struck two MassDOT workers, seriously injuring one. Police said they also recovered four guns, including two modified with Glock switches. The other vehicle was located at Randall Place. Four people were arrested and three firearms were recovered. After obtaining a search warrant, Springfield and Massachusetts State Police detectives searched the home and allegedly found additional firearm magazines and ammunition.

Akers said the incidents did not represent a larger threat to the public and there were no suspects at large.
“Everyone we were looking for at this time has been apprehended — [everyone] that we believe was in direct contact with this incident,” Akers said.

He also dismissed suggestions that police were specifically targeted, saying the officers were undercover and suggested the accused may have believed officers to be “rivals” or “competitors.”

Police supervisors praised the officers for exercising “restraint” throughout the series of events.

Deputy Chief Steve Kent summarized the events of the evening again make the point, “For a department that takes a lot of lumps, I wish more people could see when something like that happens, a critical incident, the way these guys step up, push past emotions most normal people push past and function, they did it last night and I couldn’t be any prouder.”

Keenan said the efforts were representative of his unit’s regular conduct.

“[FIU detectives] go after the most dangerous armed suspects, I would say, in the commonwealth, if not New England, and they do it successfully. We see more firearms per capita than any detective unit in the state, I would say,” he said. “We did that last year with no complains, no prisoner injuries. We do it very well; we it very professionally.”

Officer Santos

Santos was transported from Springfield to a Boston area hospital where police say he arrived with bullet fragments lodged in his head. As of press time, Santos had undergone surgery and doctors believed they could save his eye but there was a strong possibility he would lose the use of the eye.

Santos has been a member of the Springfield Police Department for seven years. He received a Medal of Valor from the department in 2023. Akers said the department was assisting Santos’ family. It was noted that Santos’ son is a police officer in another jurisdiction and that department had been active in supporting Santos and his family.

The Greg Hill Foundation, founded by Boston sports radio station WEEI’s morning show host, initiated an effort to raise money for Santos’ family, matching all donations up to $7,500. As of press time, more than $22,500 had been collected.

For more information or to donate, visit www.thegreghillfoundation.org.

Those interested can also make donations by Venmo to the Springfield Police Patrolman’s Union’s charitable arm, 364 Gives, at @IBPO364Gives.