Injured man to be charged
Five off-duty Pittsburgh police officers fired nearly a dozen shots -- one at a different car -- while a man in a Buick LeSabre raced down East Carson Street early Sunday morning, according to court documents filed when the driver was charged on Tuesday.
Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper said it was too early to determine which of the officers shot Donald Burris Jr., 32, of Carnegie, and which shot his mother, Lena Davenport, 49, of Wilkinsburg, who was sitting in the front passenger seat. Police said the car ran through a red light near the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Hays Street in Homestead and led police on a 35- to 40-mph chase through the bustling South Side.
Burris was awaiting arraignment Tuesday night on charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and fleeing or attempting to elude police. He was arrested after he was discharged from UPMC Mercy, where he was undergoing treatment for a gunshot wound to the shoulder and an arm injury he suffered when his car crashed in the 1300 block of East Carson. His mother remained at UPMC Mercy after she underwent surgery for a gunshot wound to the eye.
The five officers who fired shots while working an overtime detail at bars in the South Side -- officers Igor S. Boyko, Thomas M. Gorecki and Louis Schweitzer, narcotics Detective Calvin Kennedy and Sgt. Stephen Matakovich -- remain on paid administrative leave while homicide detectives and investigators from the Allegheny County district attorney's office review the case and attempt to determine whether the officers followed proper procedure when they fired their duty weapons.
"We still have a lot of film footage [to review]," Chief Harper said. "We're still looking at a lot of reports that were turned in."
A criminal complaint supporting Burris' arrest provided new details about where the Pittsburgh police officers were working and where shots were fired.
Sgt. Matakovich told detectives it felt like a warm spring night and the pleasant turn in the weather caused people to pack East Carson as if it were a holiday. He said he was working in the 1500 block when he heard over the police radio that a chase was heading from Homestead toward the South Side. He said he began walking toward the 1600 block when he heard Zone 3 Sgt. James Perry yell over the scanner to "terminate the chase." Homestead officers continued the chase. Homestead police Chief Jeffrey DeSimone said he was not aware of any requests that his officers stop the chase.
Pittsburgh police placed spike strips near 24th Street in hopes of stopping the car, which swerved around them and continued on past 22nd Street.
When Sgt. Matakovich made it to the 1600 block, he saw Detective Kennedy, who was working an off-duty detail outside Winghart's Burger and Whiskey Bar. The sergeant said he began yelling at a girl to get out of the road and saw headlights as the car made its way toward the 1700 block of East Carson.
He said he heard shots and saw the car come hurtling toward him and Detective Kennedy while they were standing in the middle of the road trying to move pedestrians out of the way. The car was coming "no more than 30 feet from them and flying" when he pulled out his gun and fired four times, according to the complaint.
The sergeant also said he heard Detective Kennedy fire once from his .40-caliber Glock 23 before the car drove past them and banged off a car in the inbound lane.
"[Detective] Kennedy not only feared for his life, but also for the life of Sgt. Matakovich, who was standing next to him," police wrote in the complaint.
The two ran down the street and were joined by Officer Scott Bobak, who also ran down the street with them as the car continued down East Carson.
Officer Bobak told officers he did not fire his gun because the sergeant and detective were in front of him and he did not have a clear shot. He also said he jumped out of the way because he thought the car was going to run over him, according to the complaint.
Officer Schweitzer, of Zone 5, was working at Diesel Night Club in the 1600 block when he and Sgt. Ray Ripple ran into the street to try to clear pedestrians out of the way. He said he aimed three or four shots at the driver, who swerved to his right and toward Sgt. Ripple, according to the complaint
Officer Gorecki told investigators he heard several shots and stepped out near the 1400 block of East Carson to see the green Buick LeSabre rear end one car and then head toward him and a Classy Cab, placing him between the cab and the Buick when he fired two shots at the driver from about five or six feet away, according to the complaint.
He said the car crashed with the cab and stopped in the 1300 block of East Carson. He said he jumped on the hood of the cab and held up his weapon until medics removed Burris from the car.
A video posted on YouTube shows several officers surrounding the car at gunpoint after it crashed and stopped moving. A popping sound can be heard in the background. Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said investigators do not believe that officers fired after the car stopped moving but instead think that was the sound of officers breaking glass in the car so medics could get to Burris and Ms. Davenport.
Officer Boyko told detectives he was working at Rumshaker's Bar and was between the 1400 and 1300 block of East Carson when he heard the chase on a police radio and gunshots and saw a tan Buick SUV accelerating toward him, mistook it for the car being chased and fired several shots at the driver, fearing that he was going to be run over, according to the complaint. The SUV driver pulled into a parking lot in the 1200 block. No one inside that car was injured, police said.
Police union president Sgt. Michael LaPorte has said he believes the officers were justified to fire because the driver, "with reckless abandon" used his car as a "4,000-pound deadly weapon."
Police 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."
An internal investigation will determine whether the officers followed that policy.
Officer Schweitzer is currently the subject of another internal investigation aimed at determining whether he and fellow Zone 5 Officer Lance Hoyson followed proper procedure when they responded to a disconnected 911 call made from the Larimer home of Ka'Sandra Wade the night before she was found shot to death and left after speaking only to her boyfriend, who confessed to killing her before taking his own life during a standoff with police.
Sgt. Matakovich was cleared after he and another officer killed a gunman who opened fire in a crowded Strip District in 2000, killing a man. Both were working off-duty.
Court records also revealed new details about Burris, who was on probation after Pittsburgh police charged him earlier this year with making terroristic threats. His probation/parole plan required him to "cooperate with" mental health and drug and/or alcohol treatment at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic on an outpatient basis and to take all prescriptions prescribed by a psychiatrist.
He pleaded guilty to filing a false report and providing false identification to law enforcement after Bridgeville police said he hit another car in 2009 and tried to blame the accident on his underage brother or his girlfriend's son.
Court records also show that he pleaded guilty to corruption of minors, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and forgery in other incidents and that two women had filed for protection from abuse orders against him.
His relatives could not be reached for comment.
First Published January 16, 2013 12:00 am