Pittsburgh police change rule on firing at cars


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Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper sent a policy revision to officers Thursday notifying them that they may not "discharge a firearm at or into a moving vehicle or its occupants unless there are shots being fired from that vehicle."

Chief Harper's email did not explain why the policy change was being made and said the policy is still under review.

The order will be read at roll call for three consecutive days, he said.

Pittsburgh police have investigated at least three incidents since November in which officers fired at cars, the most recent being a chase that began in Homestead and ended with five off-duty officers firing shots on Carson Street minutes before bars closed. Two people were seriously injured in that incident.

Pittsburgh police policy previously stated, "An officer shall not discharge his or her firearm at a moving vehicle unless the occupants are using deadly physical force against the officer or another person present by means other than the vehicle.

"The only exception to said policy is a situation where the vehicle is being intentionally operated as a weapon and an officer or a third party is faced with immediate death or serious bodily injury and the officer has done everything reasonably necessary to avoid the use of deadly force; an officer shall not discharge a firearm for the sole purpose of disabling a vehicle."

The last line -- "an officer shall not discharge a firearm for the sole purpose of disabling a vehicle" -- remains in effect, the chief wrote in the email.

Police union president Sgt. Michael LaPorte said the union was not consulted regarding the policy change.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard did not respond to requests for comment.

On Jan. 13, five off-duty Pittsburgh police officers working an overtime detail in the South Side -- officers Igor S. Boyko, Thomas M. Gorecki and Louis R. Schweitzer, narcotics Detective Calvin Kennedy and Sgt. Stephen Matakovich -- fired nearly a dozen shots at a green Buick LeSabre that had led officers on a chase that started in Homestead.

Another vehicle was also shot at when Officer Boyko mistook it for the LeSabre, according to court documents.

The LeSabre's driver, Donald Burris Jr., 32, of Carnegie was treated for a gunshot wound to the shoulder and an arm injury and charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and fleeing or attempting to elude officers in connection with the chase.

He was later taken back to the hospital to be treated for complications from his wounds, according to his attorney J. Kerrington Lewis.

His mother, Lena Davenport, 49, of Wilkinsburg, who was riding in the front seat, was shot in the eye and suffered serious wounds.

Chief Harper said at the time that officers did not find any weapons or drugs inside the LeSabre. The five officers were placed on administrative leave and have since returned to duty.

When the chase reached East Carson Street, police placed spike strips, which the LeSabre swerved around.

Shortly after, police began firing shots at the vehicle.

"[Detective] Kennedy not only feared for his life, but also for the life of Sgt. Matakovich, who was standing next to him," according to a criminal complaint.

Officer Boyko fired several times into a Buick Rendezvous after he mistook it for the LeSabre, fearing that he was going to be run over, according to the complaint. Police have said the car was struck by the LeSabre, causing it to lurch toward the officer. No one inside that car was injured, police said.

Police also fired shots at a moving vehicle when a black Mazda tried to run over an officer, who then fired his weapon Dec. 25 in East Liberty. Later that night, police found the vehicle abandoned and no one to be found.

And on Nov. 11, police said Leon Ford, 19, was shot as he drove away from a traffic stop in Highland Park. Mr. Ford was critically injured and charged with aggravated assault, three counts of reckless endangerment and traffic violations. He is being held in the Allegheny County Jail.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com. Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com. First Published February 1, 2013 5:00 AM


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