Pittsburgh officer describes shooting that left her partner paralyzed

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Pittsburgh police Officer Michelle Auge told a jury Wednesday that as she and her partner were attempting to subdue a man who had fled a traffic stop from them last year, she sustained blows to her head — both from the suspect’s fist and from the door jamb of his car.

Stunned, she paced around, called in a description of the suspect and location to dispatchers, and turned off the patrol car siren as her partner, Officer Morgan Jenkins, pursued the man — later identified as James Hill.

It was a short time later that she heard an exchange of gunfire that she began to run in the same direction the men had.

As she neared them, Officer Auge said she could see muzzle flash, and she fired three rounds in the direction of the suspect.

Then she heard Officer Jenkins say, “I’m hit.’”

“Morgan was saying he was hit in his side and couldn’t feel his legs,” she testified. “My concern was my partner.”

Officer Jenkins was paralyzed after a bullet investigators say was fired by Hill lodged in his spinal cord.

Hill is on trial this week before a jury sitting before Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman for attempted homicide and related charges stemming from the April 11, 2013, incident.

The judge told jurors Tuesday he would not hold court Wednesday afternoon referencing his role as administrative judge in the criminal division. Staff members, too, said there was no court because of administrative matters.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a person who answered the phone at St. Clair Country Club said the judge was out on the course and took a message for him. That message was not returned, nor was one that was left at his home.

Earlier in the day on Wednesday, Officer Auge testified that she attempted to shock Hill with her Taser when the fight with him began outside his car, but one prong went into her leg and one into the suspect’s. Because all three people were intertwined with each other, she said, they all felt the electrical impulse.

It did not subdue him.

“He broke free of our grasp, and Morgan pursued him down the street,” she said.

Officer Auge said she could not remember parts of the incident shown in a video recording taken from the officers’ dashboard camera, likely because of the blows to her head. After the suspect and Officer Jenkins run out of camera range, Officer Auge can be seen pacing and using her radio to call dispatch. Then she could be seen peering in the suspect’s car and eventually going down on one knee.

She was later diagnosed with a concussion and a bruised orbital bone.

Also testifying Wednesday was Sgt. Charles Henderson. He told the jury that when he responded to the scene to assist Officers Jenkins and Auge, that he found Hill laying face up on the ground, with a handgun to his right. As Sgt. Henderson approached, he testified that Hill rolled over toward his gun. Sgt. Henderson quickly moved with him and stood on Hill’s hands to prohibit him from picking up the weapon, which officers later found had malfunctioned because a spent casing failed to properly eject.

During the morning session, a woman sitting with Hill’s family wore a blue T-shirt into the courtroom that read “Justice4Leon, Zone 5 Criminals On Patrol,” with the C, O and P circled.

When courtroom staff noticed the shirt, the woman was asked to leave the room and change. She did, although she put it on later after the session ended.

Leon was referring to Leon Ford, who was stopped by officers in a traffic stop in Highland Park on Nov. 11, 2012. He was shot by an officer who entered his car, as police said he tried to flee the scene. Mr. Ford’s trial is scheduled to begin next month.

Lexi Belculfine contributed. Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published August 13, 2014 12:00 AM


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