An asbestos removal worker with a sixth-grade education, Richard DeSabetino was known to steal cars and even to run from police.
In 15 years, DeSabetino, 33, accumulated a criminal record that included convictions on charges of fleeing and eluding, theft and simple assault, among others.
But none of those cases, his girlfriend Amy Calabrese said Thursday, compared to the chain of events that police said transpired Wednesday when officers attempted to arrest Calabrese and DeSabetino ran.
Allegheny County police superintendent Charles Moffatt said Wednesday that DeSabetino hit a Baldwin Borough police officer with a car, dragged him and then hit him again, prompting another Baldwin officer to open fire and sparking a chase that involved the theft of two cars and ended when officers again opened fire in a Bethel Park housing development.
On Thursday, the superintendent revised the account of events, issuing a brief statement saying DeSabetino “attempted to assault several officers with a vehicle at different locations during his attempt to flee. The Baldwin officer wasn’t hit by DeSabetino’s vehicle, however, he ... held onto the running board and as the vehicle accelerated backward then forward, the officer fell from the vehicle. We have not been able to confirm at this point that DeSabetino had a firearm.”
Calabrese, 31, who witnessed the events that sparked the chase, disputed the notion that her boyfriend tried to assault officers but was otherwise pleased with the change.
“My story is now the truth,” she said. “He’ll beat you up. He’ll knife you ... but Richey will never fire a gun.”
Calabrese said her boyfriend grew up in Pittsburgh, living at various times in Larimer and in Lawrenceville. He completed the sixth grade. What transpired between then and the time he met Calabrese is unclear, but it included several arrests.
Many of DeSabetino’s cases are old enough that the records are kept in court archives and were not immediately available.
Files that were available show that in one case, DeSabetino drove a stolen Jeep, abandoned it and ran away from Pittsburgh police officers. He pleaded guilty to theft, receiving stolen property and criminal mischief in a case that was handled in Allegheny County’s Mental Health Court.
He pleaded guilty to theft and receiving stolen property in a separate case in 2012 in which Pittsburgh police said he stole another person’s Jeep.
So DeSabetino was no stranger to the process when Baldwin Borough police Officer Sean Biagini came to the door looking for his girlfriend Wednesday, which marked six months that the couple had been together.
Officer Biagini was checking the computer in his car when he saw a warrant for Calabrese, recognized her name and decided to swing by her house to see if she was home.
“He has an unusual ability to establish rapport with everybody he comes into,” Baldwin Borough police Chief Mike Scott said of Biagini, who has been on his force for 11 years.
The officer didn’t realize at that time that Calabrese’s boyfriend, who was wanted on a theft warrant relating to stolen bicycles and possible probation or parole violations, would be at the home too, Chief Scott said.
Police said DeSabetino gave them only a nickname, not his full name, and refused their commands to stop. He ran into a white SUV parked outside the family home on Boni Drive.
“He was able to get in the car and the officer could see him reaching around for something,” Chief Scott said. “He didn’t know if it was the weapon or if he was trying to start the car.”
Chief Scott said Officer Biagini attempted to “contain” DeSabetino’s hands and, “During that point, DeSabetino was able to reach under the officer’s vest and grab him by his shirt. [The officer] said he doesn’t know how it happened, but somehow he was able to start the vehicle.”
Chief Scott said another officer, whom he did not identify, ordered DeSabetino to let go and DeSabetino didn’t comply, instead driving the car.
The second officer fired one shot and Officer Biagini fell off the car; the second officer then fired a second shot, the chief said.
Officer Biagini lost consciousness at some point. “He remembers hearing voices, hearing his name called, not really associating who was doing the calling,” Chief Scott said.
The officer who fired the shots is on paid administrative leave, as per normal protocol, Chief Scott said.
Superintendent Moffatt said Wednesday that DeSabetino then led officers on a chase, stealing two cars and causing a crash before officers from Baldwin Borough, Bethel Park and the Allegheny County police departments opened fire.
Calabrese said Thursday that DeSabetino remained in a Pittsburgh hospital and she had not been able to see him since his arrest.
She said doctors told her he was shot in the back and that his spleen had been removed and his liver lacerated.
Officer Biagini also remained in the hospital, where doctors continued to monitor the extent of his head injuries.
“He’s been in discomfort and things like that,” Chief Scott said, but he’s “very lucid, communicative, always had a great sense of humor.”
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.