DA investigates 'suicide by cop' shooting
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An Allegheny County sheriff's deputy could not have retreated when an East Liberty man aimed what the deputy thought was a semiautomatic pistol at him, prompting him to open fire, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Thursday.
Mr. Zappala made that conclusion after studying the area around a home in the 500 block of North Euclid Avenue where Deputy Sean Green fatally shot 19-year-old Odell W. Brown on June 13 in what police have described as a case of "suicide by cop."
The deputy fired one shot from his AR-15 rifle after Mr. Brown, distraught over a breakup, refused to drop his weapon, which investigators later learned was a realistic-looking pellet gun. The shooting occurred in a side yard of the home where Mr. Brown lived with his mother and grandmother, who said they have lingering questions about the 90-minute standoff.
"I wanted to know if the deputy could have retreated, and you can see he could not," Mr. Zappala said, standing in the side yard, which is enclosed by a wooden fence that was pierced by Deputy Green's round. "He was contained."
Before he can determine whether the shooting was justified, Mr. Zappala said he must examine other evidence, including the deputy's personnel file to learn more about his career and from the cell phone on which Mr. Brown was talking as he paced the street.
Pittsburgh police were called to North Euclid by neighbors who reported seeing an agitated Mr. Brown outside with a gun. He refused to drop the weapon when police arrived. City officers requested backup from sheriff's deputies who were serving writs in the area.
More lives might have been jeopardized had the deputy not shot Mr. Brown, Mr. Zappala said.
"If you shoot somebody and you don't take him out, he could return fire and an innocent person could be killed," he said.
Mr. Brown's mother, Andrea Stevens, has said she knew her son had a pellet gun and told that to her mother, Joyce Stevens, who was inside the house during the standoff. The women have said they wonder why police did not seek information from them while the situation was unfolding.
Joyce Stevens declined to comment Thursday except to say, "There's just so many unanswered questions at this time."
Investigators are still examining the pellet gun. Even if police had been informed that the weapon did not fire bullets, "can an officer afford to take that chance? I think not," the district attorney said.
Deputy District Attorney Mark Tranquilli, who joined him at the scene, held the pellet gun against a police sergeant's Glock .40, pointing out the similarities.
"It looks real, it feels real," he said. "It certainly looked real to the sheriff that day."
First Published June 22, 2012 12:00 am