New details emerged Monday about a weekend chase that began in Homestead and ended with five police officers firing shots on a bustling South Side, leaving a man and his mother with serious wounds and local leaders with questions.
Police administrators did not publicly name the pair suspected of running from police after the driver ran a red light on Eighth Avenue in Homestead and weaved in and out of East Carson Street traffic about 15 minutes before the bars closed early Sunday. Police reports identify the driver as Donald Burris Jr., 32, and his passenger as Lena Davenport, 49, who live together in Wilkinsburg.
Pittsburgh police have said that Mr. Burris was wanted on traffic violations from Georgia and had no other significant charges against him. Court records showed little for his mother, except that she pleaded guilty Thursday to disorderly conduct stemming from an incident in Wilkinsburg, the details of which were not immediately available.
Meanwhile the five Pittsburgh officers who fired shots while working an off-duty detail -- officers Igor S. Boyko, Thomas M. Gorecki and Louis R. Schweitzer, narcotics detective Calvin C. Kennedy and Sgt. Stephen Matakovich -- are on paid administrative leave while homicide detectives, who are working with the Allegheny County district attorney's office, review the case.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Monday morning called the shooting incident on the South Side unfortunate but said it would be "inappropriate" for him to comment on the actions of officers who fired into a moving car on a crowded street.
"I can imagine it was a horrific scene," the mayor said. "Our officers are trained to keep people safe and that's what they did here. Needless to say, it was a scary situation."
Pittsburgh police officers working an overtime detail on the South Side learned about 1:40 a.m. that Homestead police were chasing a green Buick on River Road heading toward East Carson Street but did not know why the chase was happening, according to audio recordings of the police scanner and interviews with officers. As the driver and the Homestead and West Homestead officers chasing him made their way toward the South Side -- often at speeds of about 40 mph -- Sgt. James Perry, who was working as a supervisor in the Zone 3 station that covers the South Side, could be heard shouting for officers to "terminate the pursuit."
Pittsburgh police reports indicate that Sgt. Perry called for officers to stop the chase near 33rd and East Carson and they unsuccessfully placed spike strips near 24th Street in hopes of stopping the car, which was weaving through lanes of traffic. Those reports also indicate that the Homestead police continued pursuing the Buick into the business district. Homestead police Chief Jeffrey DeSimone said he was not aware of any requests that his officers stop the chase and thought they had backed off and were instead following several seconds behind when the action intensified.
"My guys weren't in the heart of the South Side when [the Buick] was smacking off cars. My guys didn't witness that," Chief DeSimone said. "They heard the shots, they did not see them."
At least one of the officers shot at the Buick LeSabre as it drove through the 1400 block of East Carson, one block from where it crashed and from where five officers surrounded the car at gunpoint. Videos that circulated on YouTube and other sites showed one of the officers standing on the hood of a car next to the smashed Buick. Medics transported the pair to UPMC Mercy, where Ms. Davenport was in critical but stable condition Monday after undergoing surgery for a gunshot wound to the eye and Mr. Burris was in serious condition while being treated for a gunshot wound to the arm.
Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper said Sunday that officers did not find weapons or drugs inside the car or in the possession of Mr. Burris or Ms. Davenport. "The officers felt the use of deadly force was justified because the actor was using his vehicle as a deadly weapon," he said.
Police department policy states, "An officer shall not discharge his or her firearm at a moving vehicle unless the occupants are using deadly physical force against the officer or another person present by means other than the vehicle. The only exception to said policy is a situation where the vehicle is being intentionally operated as a weapon and an officer or a third party is faced with immediate death or serious bodily injury and the officer has done everything reasonably necessary to avoid the use of deadly force; an officer shall not discharge a firearm for the sole purpose of disabling a vehicle."
Police union president Sgt. Michael LaPorte said he believed the driver was using the Buick as a deadly weapon and the officers were justified to use deadly force.
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Ed Blazina contributed.