DA says officer was justified in fatal shooting in Homewood

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A little more than five seconds elapsed between the time Adrian Williams emerged from behind some houses and the time he fell to the ground, fatally shot by a Pittsburgh police officer in April.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Wednesday that he felt Officer Christopher Kertis, 35, was justified under state law to shoot Williams, 29. He also said he passed his case file along to the U.S. attorney's office for a review at the federal level.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney David Hickton said he declined comment on the status of their review.

District attorney: Police officer justified in shooting

A Pittsburgh police officer was justified in killing a man who was fleeing from police in April, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said today in a news conference. (Video by Nate Guidry; 6/4/2014)

Mr. Zappala made his remarks during a 35-minute news conference at which he outlined in new detail the moments leading to the shooting of Williams following a chase in Wilkinsburg.

As they do on many nights, officers from the city's Zone 5 station in Highland Park patrolled the area near the 6500 block of Hamilton Avenue, an area that has been the site of shootings and other crimes in the past.

During their patrol, two officers, Aaron Obsenica and Matthew Schwartzmiller, spotted a gun in plain view on the driver's side floor of a parked Chevy Malibu, Mr. Zappala said. He said the pair ran a check on the car's license plates at 2:42 a.m. and learned that it was registered to a woman, later discovered to have some sort of relationship with Williams.

About 3 a.m., Williams left the Serenity night club and got into the car. The officers turned on their lights and sirens, but Williams fled, Mr. Zappala said. Because of the gun, the call was labeled a priority and everyone who was not tied up on another call was expected to respond, Mr. Zappala said.

He said Williams led officers on a chase -- one drove about 100 mph trying to stop him -- before he crashed on Trenton Avenue in Wilkinsburg. Williams got out of the car, grabbed the gun and ran, Mr. Zappala said.

Two officers chased Williams while he ran behind some houses and Officer Kertis ran in front of the houses, parallel to them, Mr. Zappala said. When he emerged from behind the houses, he saw Officer Kertis. Another officer, James Togyer, pulled up around that time and his car captured video of the shooting.

"I think he was surprised that the police car was there immediately, and I think he was surprised to see the police," Mr. Zappala said of Williams.

He said Williams tripped over some debris, rolled and continued to move, pointing the gun at Officer Kertis and the police car.

In the next 1.8 seconds, Officer Kertis told Williams twice to drop his gun, Mr. Zappala said. In the 2.4 seconds after that Officer Kertis fired six shots, all of which hit Williams.

Mr. Zappala said after Officer Kertis fired the first two shots, Williams started to get up.

"After Mr. Williams is hit, he realizes he's being struck because he has a weapon in his hand, and he hadn't acted in accordance with the commands that are being given to him," Mr. Zappala said. "As he's falling, he throws the weapon."

Mr. Zappala attributed the additional shots fired to "reaction time" during which Officer Kertis' brain would have processed that Williams was dropping the gun. Officer Togyer did not fire any shots, nor did Williams, Mr. Zappala said.

A spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh police said they had not heard directly from the district attorney's office and thus did not wish to comment on his statements. Williams' grandmother declined comment.

Still unclear is why Williams fled and why he took the gun. Mr. Zappala said Williams had very little alcohol in his system after leaving the bar. While Williams' prior felony conviction would have made it illegal for him to possess a gun, the fact that the car belonged to someone else would have made it hard for officials to charge him with possessing it before they saw him pick it up, Mr. Zappala said.

"What he did is he takes the gun and why I'm not sure," Mr. Zappala said. "Obviously, I can't make an inquiry."

Editor’s note: For the PowerPoint presentation below, reader discretion is advised. 


Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1438. First Published June 4, 2014 12:14 PM


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