Questions surround deadly Port Authority encounter on busway
February 2, 2016 12:58 AM
Bruce Kelley Jr., left, and Bruce Kelley Sr.
By Rich Lord and Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sunday’s encounter in Wilkinsburg that left a man and a police dog dead quickly evolved from officers’ dealing with mundane open-container violations to a full-on brawl involving pepper spray, Tasers, a 14-inch knife and guns.
Now, the Allegheny County Police Department and district attorney’s office will have to sort out how a situation that began with proactive policing for a minor issue ended with fatalities.
Whether the dead man, Bruce T. Kelley Jr., had mental health problems is an open question; court records that are part of his 19-year criminal history show a man that exhibited recent defiance of police and several indications that judges had concerns about his mental health. It is unclear whether any of the Port Authority officers involved in the incident were among the 10 the department has had specially trained to deal with mentally unstable individuals.
Sunday’s incident began shortly before 3:37 p.m. at the Hamnett Place Station gazebo along the Martin Luther King Jr. Busway. Police said two Port Authority officers, Emily Hampy and another named Adams, were walking the trail near the busway when they came across Kelley, 37, and his father, Bruce T. Kelley Sr., 60, who were sitting in the gazebo and drinking.
It was a routine patrol. Prodded by community complaints, Port Authority police have taken extra care for the past few years to monitor areas along the busway in Wilkinsburg for people using drugs and alcohol. Members of the authority’s 40-person force have the same kind of training, arms, arrest and enforcement powers as municipal police officers.
“We’ve had a lot of concern coming from the community about Hamnett [Place Station] and this area of the gazebo, where they’ve asked Port Authority to patrol to try to keep an eye on it,” Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said Monday. “The task of Port Authority has been to do a better job of cracking down on this type of activity in that area.”
As the officers approached, they said Kelley Jr. got up and tried to walk away. They told him to stop. He did and then began to “aggressively approach” the officers, according to a criminal complaint for Bruce Kelley Sr.
“He stated [expletive] this and rushed Officer Adams,” police wrote, and a fight began.
While Kelley Jr. was fighting, police said he yelled to his father to help. Kelley Sr. then approached Officer Hampy and punched her in the face, police said. The two fought, with Kelley knocking Officer Hampy’s radio and name tag off her uniform. She sprayed him with pepper spray and pushed him to the ground. Once he was down, she left to help her partner subdue Kelley Jr.
Kelley Sr. got up and again tried to help his son, according to the complaint, and one of the officers sprayed him again. During the altercation, both men escaped from police and ran, apparently heading down the trail that runs along the busway.
Police asked for backup to help find the two, and officers responded, including the police dog, Aren, and his handler, Brian O’Malley.
A second encounter broke out about 17 minutes later when officers caught up with the Kelleys along Whitney Street, a dead end adjoining the busway trail consisting of run-down and boarded-up houses.
Police tried to subdue Kelley Jr. with a Taser, but his thick coat prevented the charge from having any effect.
When other officers’ Tasers also failed to stop Kelley Jr., the Port Authority officer released the dog. Mr. Ritchie said Aren was an explosives dog but was being used in the Kelley incident.
Kelley, who was carrying a knife measuring 14 inches including the handle, stabbed the dog in the head, police said, after which two officers shot Kelley in front of an abandoned house. The two officers are on administrative leave pending the investigation, Port Authority Chief Matt Porter said.
Mr. Ritchie said the Port Authority has protective vests for its three dogs, but the animals don’t wear them all day because the weight can cause back and hip problems. So their handlers remove the vests throughout the day. Aren wasn’t wearing his during the incident, but it wouldn’t have mattered because of the location of the fatal injury.
Kelley’s criminal history includes a situation similar to the one Sunday in terms of his belligerence toward police and a Taser’s lack of effectiveness.
On Oct. 6, 2014, shortly after midnight, City of Washington police saw a man, later identified as Kelley, inside of fenced-in property “that did not belong to him,” according to the police affidavit. Asked for his name, he answered, “Tommy Gun.”
Then when officers exited their vehicle and ordered him to stop, he ran through an alley. Police tried a Taser, which didn’t make enough contact, according to the affidavit.
Taken to the ground by police during the 2014 encounter, Kelley “continued trying to fight with officers and refused to place his hands behind his back.” The officers were eventually able to handcuff and arrest him.
At 18, Kelley was arrested for stealing a black hat from a J.C. Penney store in Washington. He was only fined, but it was the beginning of 19 years of law enforcement encounters.
Two years later, he got in more serious trouble when four juvenile girls accused him of handing them coin-shaped tokens decorated with pictures of naked women, as well as what police described as “magic playing cards with his name and phone number” on them. The girls said he tried to touch and hug them, and asked them to “pinkie swear” that they wouldn’t tell anyone. He was charged with corruption of minors and sentenced to six to 23 months in jail.
His next run-in with local law enforcement, in 2006, came when state police stopped him for suspicious behavior in Canton Township, near Washington, and found a knife and marijuana on him, according to a police affidavit. He was sentenced to 30 days of probation.
Two years later, he was arrested for trespassing into a house in Washington, for which he was sentenced to four to 18 months in jail. In 2009, he was charged with burglary in Braddock but was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser crime of receiving stolen property.
That year he was also ordered to arrange a drug and alcohol assessment with the SPHS CARE Center, a mental health counseling facility in Washington.
Another burglary charge, in which police said he kicked in the door of Trapazano’s Tuxedos in Washington on a March night in 2011, and then fled, led to a 15- to 30-month prison sentence. The judge also ordered a “drug and alcohol evaluation as well as a mental health assessment.” In August 2012, he was transferred to Renewal Inc., Downtown, where he was to undergo “inpatient alcohol and other drug with dual diagnosis” treatment, according to court papers. Dual diagnosis refers to substance abuse and a mental health diagnosis.
Twice in October 2012 and once in 2014, he was arrested for stealing air conditioners and attempting to sell them for scrap. Finally, the 2014 encounter with Washington police led Judge John F. DiSalle to sentence him to six months’ probation.
Jonathan D. Silver contributed. Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org. Torsten Ove: email@example.com.