Affidavit outlines shootings that left three Pittsburgh police officers dead
April 6, 2009 4:00 AM
The front picture window is broken out at the Poplawski home at 1016 Fairfield St., Stanton Heights.
By Jon Schmitz and Moriah Balingit Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Richard Poplawski fired several shots into the body of a wounded Pittsburgh police officer during a siege Saturday that left three officers dead and a fourth wounded, a neighbor told police.
The neighbor was awakened by gunfire shortly after 7 a.m. and rushed to a window. An officer, later identified as Stephen J. Mayhle, was sprawled on the ground near the stoop of 1016 Fairfield St. in Stanton Heights.
The neighbor told police a man standing in the doorway "fired 2-3 more shots into the downed officer, then re-entered the residence," according to a criminal complaint.
Mr. Poplawski, 22, is charged with killing Officer Mayhle, 29, and Officers Eric Kelly, 41, and Paul J. Sciullo II, 37, who were responding to a 911 call placed by Margaret Poplawski, the suspect's mother. He also is charged with multiple counts of attempted homicide as a result of a lengthy gun battle with other police officers. Another officer, Brian Jones, broke a leg while scaling a fence behind the house.
Mr. Poplawski, who told friends that he was afraid the government was going to take his guns and that police could not protect citizens during the economic downturn, was arraigned at 2 a.m. Sunday in his hospital bed at UPMC Presbyterian. His preliminary hearing is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday in City Court.
A spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney's office would not speculate on whether Mr. Poplawski might face the death penalty on the charges against him.
"It's inappropriate to even talk about this case at this point," said Mike Manko.
The criminal complaint gives this version of the siege:
Mrs. Poplawski called 911 at 7:03 a.m., saying she wanted her son out of the house "because he was giving her a hard time." She said she had awakened and confronted him after discovering that a dog had urinated on the floor, and the two had argued.
Officers Mayhle and Sciullo arrived at 7:11. Mrs. Poplawski opened the door "and admitted them, saying, 'come and take his ass.' Mrs. Poplawski reported that as the officers entered approximately 10 feet into the residence, she heard gunshots, turned and saw her son about six feet away with a rifle in his hands, at which point she fled after screaming, "What the hell have you done?"
Officer Timothy McManaway arrived at 7:17, one minute after a radio call that officers were under fire. He saw Officer Kelly, who was off duty but had driven to the scene to back up the other officers, wounded and supine in the street beside his sport-utility vehicle.
As he tried to assist Officer Kelly, who said he was unable to breathe, more gunfire erupted and Officer McManaway returned fire toward the house. He was hit on the hand by a bullet or shrapnel.
Officer McManaway pulled Officer Kelly to cover behind the SUV, where they awaited rescue by a SWAT unit.
"Officer McManaway reported that he was able to see the one officer lying outside the residence near the front stoop, and it was clear that he was dead, having been shot in the head. He could not see the second officer, who was later found inside," the report said.
Paramedics took Officer Kelly to UPMC Presbyterian, where he died. An autopsy by the medical examiner later found he died of gunshot wounds to the trunk and lower extremities.
Back on Fairfield Street, a three-hour standoff ensued, punctuated by gunfire. Mr. Poplawski fired numerous shots that hit a bulletproof SWAT vehicle occupied by eight officers.
Shots fired by Mr. Poplawski also hit homes at 1021 and 1025 Fairfield, both of them occupied at the time, police said.
A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said he watched through his window as a police sniper perched on the front stoop of his home at Fairfield and Antoinette streets fired a shot that clearly struck Mr. Poplawski.
The same man later found bullet holes in his Toyota Camry, which had been parked on the street.
Police who tried to get to where Officers Mayhle and Sciullo lay wounded were turned back several times by gunfire from the house, said Don Sand, an Allegheny County 911 administrative shift commander who lives down the street.
"It was terrible to watch the officers lying there because no one could get down there. It was heart-wrenching to see," he said.
"It was just a constant barrage," said Kathleen Gilkey, whose Downlook Street house is directly behind Mr. Poplawski's and was a staging area for SWAT personnel.
Police eventually persuaded Mr. Poplawski, who was wounded in the leg, to surrender. They found Officer Sciullo's body in the living room.
He and Officer Mayhle were pronounced dead at the scene. Autopsies determined that Officer Sciullo died of gunshot wounds to the head and trunk; Officer Mayhle died from a gunshot wound to the head.
Police said Mr. Poplawski wore a bulletproof vest during the siege. They found several firearms in the house, including an AK-47 assault-style rifle.
Mrs. Poplawski told police her son, after being kicked out of Marine Corps boot camp for assaulting his drill sergeant during basic training, had been "stockpiling guns and ammunition, buying and selling the weapons online, because he believed that as a result of the economic collapse, the police were no longer able to protect society."
Reached yesterday afternoon, Mrs. Poplawski declined comment on the police report.
Earlier yesterday, she called David Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to complain about the newspaper's coverage of the shootings and threaten a lawsuit.
She demanded that the newspaper stop publishing information about her and her son, saying the reporting thus far was not factual and should be limited to the officers and their grieving families.
"You're going to have the biggest lawsuit in the history of the city of Pittsburgh," she later told a reporter.