Report: Teen inmate shared handshake, hug with CO before allegedly killing him

David Burgos is accused of attacking 60-year-old James Hillman on June 30; he died in the ICU on July 20

By Stephanie Barry
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A 16-year-old charged with murdering a counselor at a Department of Youth Services lockup on Tinkham Road had a history of assaulting staff and students, according to a police report.

James Hillman was known for his nonconfrontational style and was skilled in soothing hot tempers.
James Hillman was known for his nonconfrontational style and was skilled in soothing hot tempers. (Courtesy Hillman family)

David Burgos is accused of attacking 60-year-old James Hillman on June 30. Burgos is charged as an adult and pleaded not guilty Thursday in Springfield District Court to murder, assault and battery on a person 60 or older, and assault and battery on a correctional officer.

Burgos is now being held in another juvenile facility in Dorchester and appeared for the court hearing via Zoom. His lawyer declined comment.

Investigators believe Burgos attacked Hillman minutes after sharing a hug and a handshake, based on surveillance video outside the teen’s room.

Although the footage did not capture the alleged assault, it offered clear indications: Burgos’ foot against a bedframe as if he was “prone,” shadow movement suggesting a struggle, the sounds of bodies colliding with furniture, and Hillman’s gasps and cries for help that lasted a full five minutes, according to a state police narrative.

But no help came, according to the report, until Burgos called a “code” over Hillman’s radio. When other staff arrived, Burgos was breathing hard.

“Over here. This (guy) dead,” Burgos said.

“What do you mean by he’s dead?” the staffer responded.

“This (guy) dead,” Burgos repeated.

Other staff members arrived to provide medical aid to Hillman, according to the report.

“What did you do?” another staff member asked.

“I don’t know,” Burgos answered.

Staff members asked Burgos if he had fought Hillman or did something to him.

“I had to defend myself,” Burgos said before being led to a “reflection room,” the report says.

There is no indication in the report that Hillman confronted Burgos in any way.

Counselors called medical staff to attend to Hillman, and later called 911, prompting three ambulances to arrive.

Emergency responders “regained a pulse,” administered an IV line and loaded him in an ambulance bound for Baystate Medical Center. The father of two languished there, intubated and on a respirator, until he died on July 20 just after 1 a.m., police said.

He had broken ribs investigators attributed to CPR efforts, but they also found bruising on his neck and collarbone, the report states. The results of an examination by the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are pending.

A family member said Hillman had a nonconfrontational style and was skilled in soothing hot tempers.

“He believed that he could talk to people and calm them down,” his sister, Deborah Hillman, told The Republican in a previous interview. “If someone was arguing with him, he would never argue back. He would talk to the person and the person would cool off.”

Burgos was fresh off a “time out” at a DYS facility in Westfield after starting a fight with another boy at the Springfield facility in early June, staff told police.

He had rushed another boy in a classroom, squaring off with him, but ending up on the losing end of the fight, staff reported. The other student punched Burgos several times in the head until staff pulled them apart. Hillman was among the staff members who restrained Burgos during that incident, according to the police report.

Another staff member told police Burgos had a history of assaulting staff and residents and detailed an attack on a teacher in another facility.

Burgos remained at the Westfield facility until June 30, and resisted going back to the Tinkham Road site, the police narrative states. He refused to follow the intake and medical procedures once he returned that morning. The alleged attack on Hillman occurred before 11 a.m., according to the police report.

DYS operates 48 residential facilities for court-involved youth across the state, with varying levels of security. The 60-bed, co-ed facility at 280 Tinkham Road is considered “hardware secure,” according to a 2020 DYS audit published on its website. The state contracts with the Center for Human Development, a Springfield-based human services conglomerate, to operate the program.

“Because of the continuing investigation into this tragic event, we are limited in our ability to comment,” Ben Craft, vice president of Community Engagement for the Center for Human Development, said in a statement. “We continue to provide all the support we can to the many people who are grieving the loss of our colleague, James. The safety of our staff and of those we serve is our highest priority. In the days and weeks ahead, we are determined to understand as much as we can about what happened, and to learn from it however we can.”

Hillman worked for CHD since 2012, only recently transferring to the Tinkham Road facility, according to his sister.

A pretrial conference in Burgos’ case is set for Sept. 24.

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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