A gunfight that erupted amid busy Downtown streets and sidewalks temporarily created chaos on Friday as panicked people ran for cover and police cruisers swarmed the scene.
Pittsburgh police say Hassan Howze, 22, of Overbrook has been charged with aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy and Antonio Peterson, 24, also of Overbrook, has been charged with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and carrying a concealed firearm without a license in connection with the shooting of a 22-year-old Bellevue man just before 4 p.m.
Mr. Howze and Mr. Peterson encountered the victim, whom they knew, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street, and the three began arguing, investigators said. One or two other men and two women joined the argument, and the Bellevue man broke away from the argument and walked away down Fifth Avenue toward Market Square.
Two men shoot each other in Downtown Pittsburgh
At least one of the men was wounded in his "extremities," police said, after they each pulled out a gun about 3:50 p.m. in front of an Allegheny County sheriff's deputy near the Capital Grille restaurant. (Video by Jonathan Silver; 4/5/2013)
Mr. Howze and Mr. Peterson caught up with the man in front of the Capital Grille, at the corner of Fifth and Wood Street, and the three men began punching each other in the street, according to police. Just before 4 p.m. -- as many Downtown workers were leaving their offices and lining up for buses in one of the city's main transportation corridors -- Mr. Howze pulled out a .40-caliber pistol and shot the victim in the shoulder, investigators said.
The victim then wrestled the gun away from Mr. Howze and shot him in the back of his upper thigh, according to investigators. Just then, police said, Allegheny County Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Kevin Faulds was driving down Smithfield Street on patrol, heard the shots and drove to the scene, where he found Mr. Howze and the victim lying in the street and on the sidewalk, and Mr. Peterson nearby.
"He rolled up into a gunfight, got out of his car and was able to take all three actors into custody," said Pittsburgh police major crimes unit Lt. Kevin Kraus, who was investigating the scene on Friday. "He should be commended for his efforts."
Sgt. Faulds was assisted by an off-duty Pittsburgh police detective, who had been eating inside the Capital Grille, until additional officers arrived. Police cruisers quickly converged on the area, closing Fifth Avenue to traffic between Smithfield and Market Square for more than an hour.
Police recovered Mr. Howze's .40-caliber pistol from the scene, as well as a .32-caliber pistol left on the ground near the scene. They also recovered three .40-caliber shell casings from the area.
Police said the victim was taken to UPMC Mercy, where he was treated and later released to his family members. Mr. Howze was taken to Allegheny General Hospital, where he remained in serious condition with a groin wound. Mr. Peterson was first taken to police headquarters for questioning, then was taken to AGH for treatment of injuries he suffered during the fight. He was later taken back to headquarters for additional questioning.
Police have conducted numerous witness interviews and are reviewing videotape from the area. Investigators say they are trying to identify and question the other people who appeared to have been involved in the initial fight on Smithfield Street.
Investigators said the motive for the shooting was not clear, but David Cook, 51, Ingram, said he saw a commotion and heard some people yelling about money and possibly referencing a girlfriend moments before the shooting.
Another bystander, Paul Rodriguez Sirmons, said he saw several men chasing another man -- nearly getting hit by a car in the process -- then push him up against the Jersey barrier and chainlink fence surrounding the construction site for the new PNC skyscraper and start punching him. Then he saw one of them pull out a gun and shoot the victim.
"It caught me by surprise," he said. "I had to step back because I didn't want to get hit."
Terry Barton said she was listening to music while waiting at her bus stop on Fifth Avenue when she noticed people running up the street, away from Wood Street.
"I was like, 'Why is everyone running toward me?' " before pulling off her headphones to see what was going on, and hearing a gunshot.
At about the same time, Mr. Cook and several other witnesses said they saw at least two men run from the shooting scene before the sheriff's sergeant arrived and minutes later, police cruisers and ambulances descended on the area and closed it to traffic. Crowds quickly formed behind the yellow crime scene tape stretched across Fifth Avenue and the sidewalk, with some people rolling their eyes in frustration at the blocked sidewalk and others staying to find out what happened.
Among them, 21-year-old bus driver Darryl Richardson of the North Side said he wasn't surprised by the shooting. Police, he said, don't do enough to patrol known trouble spots Downtown, including the McDonald's restaurant on Smithfield Avenue where he said drug dealers can often be seen selling drugs openly and where fights over drugs and money frequently break out.
As in Friday's shooting, such trouble spots can put bystanders at risk, Mr. Richardson said.
"An innocent person could have been walking past there and got shot," he said.
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed. Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1719. First Published April 6, 2013 4:00 AM