DA: State parole agents endangered residents

Actions under review after firing at suspect on a crowded Knoxville street

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State parole agents put innocent lives in jeopardy this week when they opened fire on a wanted man on a bustling Knoxville street, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Thursday.

His investigators returned to the 400 block of Brownsville Road, where police said a parolee tried to run over a group of agents on Monday afternoon, prompting one of them to fire four shots into his car. Inside the Crown Victoria was a woman whom Mr. Zappala described as an "innocent occupant" who narrowly avoided their gunfire. The thoroughfare was full of pedestrians and drivers who Mr. Zappala said were also put in harm's way.

"We're lucky school wasn't letting out," the district attorney said, adding that his office is reviewing the agents' actions during the incident involving parolee Brian Brandt, 33, who remained jailed on four counts each of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and escape.

Mr. Brandt, of Carrick, was having work done on his car when a group of six agents, who had been tipped to his location, spotted him from the parking lot of a Sunoco gas station.

They had been searching for the convicted robber because, they said, he failed to check in with them since being released on parole on Aug. 30. The agents told police they announced themselves and ordered Mr. Brandt to get out of the car. Instead, they said, he reversed and hit a parked car, then pulled forward toward the agents.

Agent Thomas Wolfe put his arm through an open window in an unsuccessful effort to stun Mr. Brandt with a Taser and was dragged a short distance by his car. Another agent, Shawn Adamczyk, was struck in the leg when Mr. Brandt continued to drive, almost hitting a third agent, Chuck Ackerman, police said.

That's when Agent Adamczyk, "fearing for his safety and the safety of his other agents," fired at the vehicle, police wrote in a criminal complaint. Bullets shattered the windows.

"He wasn't shooting for the tires," Mr. Zappala said. "He was shooting for the body."

No one was hurt in the scuffle, and Mr. Brandt was quickly captured about 21/2 miles south near the city's border with Brentwood.

But Mr. Zappala said the agents broke protocol when they failed to notify Pittsburgh police that they planned to arrest Mr. Brandt in their jurisdiction.

Parole agents, who, in this case, wore plainclothes and badges around their necks, often request a uniformed presence during an arrest or notify police when they are serving a warrant, said Pittsburgh police Sgt. Dennis Washington, who was among a group of officers and detectives who studied the scene Thursday.

Officers in the Zone 3 station, who are investigating the criminal case, only learned of agents' plans for Mr. Brandt after a call for shots fired came over the radio, the sergeant said.

Also concerning to Mr. Zappala was Agent Wolfe's use of a Taser on a driver in a heavily populated area lined with storefronts.

The stun gun's jolt could have caused Mr. Brandt to lose control of the car and veer into the gas station, where bystanders were milling about.

The agent also endangered himself when he tried to stun the man, the district attorney said.

"One of the agents put himself in a position where another agent thought he had to use deadly force," Mr. Zappala said. "He actually put himself in harm's way."

Larry Ludwig, Pittsburgh district director for the state's probation and parole board, did not return calls seeking comment.

"While we do not normally comment on matters under review, we will certainly meet with the district attorney if he wishes to discuss his review of this matter and his recommendations with us," board spokesman Leo Dunn said in an email. "It is our policy that whenever an incident occurs involving an agent using a weapon, we wait until the investigation is concluded by the local police and, depending on that report, we will take any necessary action warranted."

Mr. Dunn did not comment on the status of the agents involved.

"They were trying to do their job," said Dave Newman, an acquaintance of Mr. Brandt who had been working on his car when he reversed over a curb and nearly hit Mr. Newman in the head.

Mr. Brandt "lost his mind" as soon as the agents approached him, Mr. Newman said.

"It was crazy what happened out there," he said.


Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.


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