Coroner: Pennsylvania trooper's use of lethal force 'justifiable'

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Amped up on high doses of cough medicine and antidepressants, 26-year-old Seth O'Donnell walked into an East Huntingdon Save-A-Lot wielding a pair of scissors and wound up being shot to death after he slashed a Pennsylvania state trooper in the face.

On Wednesday, Westmoreland County officials said Trooper Chad Cope was not only within his legal rights to shoot the Scottdale native in the January incident, but he acted professionally and exhausted several non-lethal tactics before firing two shots into O'Donnell's chest.

"The decision [Trooper Cope] had to make had to be done in seconds," Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha said at a news conference. "The use of lethal force was legally justifiable."

Members of O'Donnell's family attended but declined to comment. They dispute the inquest report's findings.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said he agrees with the inquest report and does not plan to file charges in the incident.

Under state law, police officers are authorized to use deadly force when death or serious bodily injury may be prevented, said Mr. Bacha, who added that it is his office's policy to conduct an inquest whenever an officer-involved shooting occurs.

Based in part on surveillance footage from the store and the dashboard camera in Trooper Cope's car, "the conduct of O'Donnell clearly placed Trooper Cope in imminent fear of death or serious injury to himself and to other persons present at the scene at the time that deadly force was used," according to the report.

The incident occurred Jan. 4, when O'Donnell entered the East Huntingdon store and began running down the aisles, eating food off of the shelves and putting on winter hats.

O'Donnell, who had previous scrapes with police, became increasingly aggressive and Trooper Cope attempted to subdue him with his Taser and wrestle him to the ground, according to the inquest report. The Taser, which was used at least three times, had no effect -- although it apparently was working correctly.

O'Donnell's erratic behavior can be partially explained by the antidepressants and cough medicine found in his blood, Mr. Bacha said, which may ultimately have killed him if he hadn't been shot.

"Of course, my heart goes out to the family," Mr. Peck said, adding, Trooper Cope "was acting on all of our behalf that morning."

mobilehome - breaking - neigh_westmoreland

Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman. First Published July 18, 2013 3:00 PM


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