Paralyzed Pittsburgh city officer testifies in trial

Running in the pitch black after a man who had just punched him and his partner, Pittsburgh police Officer Morgan Jenkins said his focus was on keeping pace with the man who had fled.

“There was never a consideration of not chasing. He had just assaulted a police officer,” Officer Jenkins said.

It was the last time he ran. That night — April 11, 2013 — Officer Jenkins was paralyzed after he was shot twice.

Dashboard video from police car the night Morgan Jenkins was shot

During the first day of a trial for James Hill, who is accused of paralyzing one Pittsburgh police officer and injuring another, the prosecution played video captured by a camera in the officers' car moments before shots were fired.

He spoke publicly about that night for the first time Tuesday, when he testified in the opening day of the trial for the man accused of shooting him and injuring his partner, Officer Michelle Auge.

Both the prosecution and the defense agree that James Hill, 25, of Homewood ran a stop sign and then led Pittsburgh police on a chase that sometimes exceeded speeds of 60 miles per hour.

They agree he likely did so because he had been labeled a fugitive since he ran away from a halfway house the year before.

But they disagree over Hill’s intentions in the moments when police said he opened fire in a wooded area near Apple Street in Homewood.

“The reason that the defendant wasn’t able to do more damage is because the gun he was using malfunctioned … and it’s probably the only reason why Morgan Jenkins is still alive,” deputy district attorney Ilan Zur said during his arguments.

Defense attorney Robert Foreman said Hill attempted to ditch his gun at one point during the foot chase in the woods and, “When he is falling, he heard somebody yelling, ‘I’m hit.’ ”

“He blacks out,” Mr. Foreman said of Hill. “He’s unconscious.”

Officer Jenkins testified that he and Officer Auge were about to head back to the Zone 5 police station about 1:30 a.m. April 11, 2013, when they saw a car run a stop sign and followed it. The car sped up, Officer Jenkins said, and led the pair on a chase before it crashed near Apple Street.

It was considered a high-risk stop because of the chase, Officer Jenkins said. The windows of the car were tinted, except for the windshield, he said, and the man inside appeared to be trying to get out.

Officer Jenkins approached the car with his .40-caliber Glock drawn. Officer Jenkins said the man, later identified as Hill, reached toward the center console of the car, resisted Officer Jenkins’ attempts to restrain him and punched him in the face.

Officer Auge attempted to use a Taser on Hill. Officer Jenkins said he felt the surge, but it did not deter Hill, who hit Officer Auge and eventually broke free from the pair and ran away.

Officer Auge called for backup while Officer Jenkins chased after Hill, into the dark wooded area.

“I recall yelling ‘Taser,’ hoping that he would think I was going to Tase him again,” Officer Jenkins said.

It was after they entered the woods that Officer Jenkins said he saw Hill with a gun for the first time. He said Hill ran, despite commands to stop, and fell twice.

They were about 10 feet apart, Officer Jenkins said, when Hill, down on one knee, pointed a gun “directly at me.”

“I have to save my own life, so I shoot,” Officer Jenkins said. He testified that he fired two rounds and then felt one bullet graze his left arm. A second bullet hit, he said, and, “It felt like a bolt of lightning. I dropped to the ground.”

He initially thought he’d been hit in the stomach. He learned later that a bullet entered through his armpit, hit his lung and damaged his spinal cord.

Officer Jenkins said he continued to fire, changing his magazine twice and unloading at least 31 shots until Sgt. Charles Henderson ran toward the scene and told him to stop firing.

Hill was also struck but has recovered. A statement he made from his hospital bed in the hours after the shooting is expected to be played during the trial. Mr. Foreman tried unsuccessfully Tuesday morning to have it suppressed.

In an audio recording played for the court, Hill can be heard moaning in pain.

In his comments, Hill said he didn’t remember much from events leading up to the shooting. He did not recall an attempted traffic stop, crashing or fighting with the police.

“Do you remember getting in a shootout with police?” Detective Robert Shaw asked in the recording.

“No,” Hill answered.

He did remember being out that night, drinking to mark the anniversary of a friend's death.

Later, he said, “I just want to tell the officer I’m very apologetic. I was drunk. I had no clue what was going on,” Hill said, his voice breaking a little. “Tell his family I’m sorry.”

Paula Reed Ward contributed. Liz Navratil:, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published August 12, 2014 12:00 AM


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