The recent death of George Floyd has hit our family in the regards to “I can’t breathe.” As you read forward I would like to be clear our family supports black lives matter and in no way is this to take from this movement we are pushing for better police training and to honor my brothers name. It’s been nearly 14 years since our tragic loss, and we haven’t seen enough change. The time is now. 

Remember the names: Robert Villane

Another name that must be remembered.  He was a son, a brother, an uncle, a cousin, and he was loved fiercely.  He died at the hands of the police.  This happened in our own community on November 6, 2006.  He, too, kept yelling, "I CAN NOT BREATHE," after being pepper sprayed and dragged out of his apartment, he was face down with hands cuffed behind him, an officer with a knee on his back and legs in shackles. It was not called a homicide. Roberts’s likely cause of death was called excited delirium.

Sign Up for Westfield Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Robert Villane’s death was not a racial issue. Robert died at the hands of police due to improper training. Robert had a mental illness, not high on drugs as originally alleged.  The police were called in to transport him to the hospital for an involuntary admission.  I was at my parents’ house when Capt. Battiloro, (Westfield’s current chief of police), came to the door and broke the news to my parents, that their youngest son was dead. I remember my Dad asking why, he replied “we were just doing our job.” He was right, that is what they were doing, their job. They just lacked the knowledge of how to approach an emotionally disturbed person.

The police protocol at the time allowed for “excessive force” as a tool to be used when necessary. We never pursued legal action against the town or any of the officers involved; instead we looked to make a change in the police protocol. I was approached by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to attend a special program that they were instrumental in putting together due to Robert’s death.  

I have been participating at the police academy in their CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) program to speak about the details of Robert’s death. It is not to put blame, it is to give another tool in their tool box to help with their training so what happed to Robert does not happen again. I know it still happens as witnessed with George Floyd’s death.

To make a change, the powers that be have to push to get the proper training that is available for all officers. It should start with the governors and be supported by mayors, police chiefs, their unions and the insurance companies that insure the towns. I am not disagreeing that racial issues are a big problem, I am stressing the importance of proper police training to help them understand how to approach every situation.

WE are adding our voices of support to the black lives matter movement. We are asking as parents, brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews, that ROBERT VILLANE is remembered. That his death provides positive change in the world. With proper training and understanding, deaths like George Floyd and others could be avoided. We may not feel the racial injustices the black community faces, but our family feels the pain, in the words I CAN NOT BREATHE, first hand.


Don Villane
Westfield, NJ