Officer's shooting at wrong vehicle a 'problem,' DA says

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Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Friday that it was a "problem" that one of five Pittsburgh police officers who fired their duty weapons during a chase on the South Side last weekend shot at the wrong car.

"I don't know enough about it," Mr. Zappala said. "I just know he shot into the wrong car."

Police wrote in a criminal complaint that Officer Igor S. Boyko, a five-year veteran of the force who was working an off-duty detail at Rumshaker's Bar, fired several times into a tan Buick Rendezvous after he mistook it for the green Buick being chased, fearing that he was going to be run over. Police have said the car that Officer Boyko shot at was struck by the car leading the chase, causing it to lurch toward him.

No one in that car was injured, police said. The driver declined to comment.

The driver in the car actually being chased, Donald Burris Jr., 32, of Carnegie, and his mother, Lena Davenport, 49, of Wilkinsburg were injured by police gunfire.

Mr. Burris, who had a gunshot wound to the shoulder, was arrested earlier this week in connection with the shooting.

His mother, who was in the front passenger seat, remains in UPMC Mercy, where she underwent surgery for a gunshot wound to the eye.

Mr. Zappala said he was still gathering information and that it was too early to discuss what actions, if any, he might take against Mr. Boyko or any of the other officers who fired shots -- Officers Thomas M. Gorecki and Louis Schweitzer, narcotics Detective Calvin Kennedy and Sgt. Stephen Matakovich.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard declined to comment, saying the incident is under investigation. She said all of the officers have been cleared to return to work from paid administrative leave after a mental health professional deemed them "psychologically fit for duty."

Two Homestead police officers began chasing a green Buick about 1:40 a.m. Sunday after they said the driver, later identified as Mr. Burris, ran a red light near the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Hays Street.

Mr. Burris later told homicide investigators that he and his mother went to Homestead looking for crack cocaine and he stopped a man he'd never seen before who looked to him like a drug dealer. Mr. Burris told police the man asked for money, pulled out a gun and then stole his money, leaving him empty-handed.

He also said his mother told him to drive away when the officers tried to pull him over because he had done nothing wrong, Mr. Zappala said.

Homestead officers followed the car as it made its way down River Road toward East Carson Street.

Zone 3 Sgt. James Perry called for officers to end the pursuit before it made its ways to the heart of E. Carson Street, where hundreds of people were gathered moments before the bars closed on a warm night, police have said.

Officers placed spike strips on the road, but the driver swerved around them. After he began weaving in and out of traffic and striking other cars, the officers fired started firing shots, Mr. Zappala said.

The officers surrounded the car at gunpoint while medics waited for them to get pull Mr. Burris and Ms. Davenport from the badly damaged car. A popping sound can be heard in the background of a YouTube video depicting that moment.

Both Mr. Zappala and Deputy Police Chief Paul Donaldson have said they do not believe the officers fired at the car after it stopped but rather that the sound was officers trying to break glass so they could pull the pair from the car.

Mr. Burris was charged this week with aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and fleeing or attempting to elude police. He remained in jail on $100,000 bail Friday night and is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing Wednesday.

Chief Nate Harper said earlier this week that while the investigation continues, he did not expect Ms. Davenport to be charged because she was not driving the car.

Attorney J. Kerrington Lewis is representing Ms. Davenport.

"Obviously, Lena Davenport was shot for some reason and under certain circumstances that have to be determined, and once that's done we'll know whether or not any action on her part is to be taken," he said.

neigh_city - neigh_south

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Staff writer Lexi Belculfine contributed.


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