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Police arrest alleged driver in attempted traffic stop before New Kensington officer's killing

Renatta Signorini
| Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, 8:33 a.m.
Tavon Jamere Harper
Tavon Jamere Harper
Tavon Jamere Harper
Tavon Jamere Harper
Police identified Rahmael Sal Holt as the suspect in the shooting death of New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw.
Police identified Rahmael Sal Holt as the suspect in the shooting death of New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw.

New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw made a split-second decision Friday night: continue following an SUV he was trying to pull over or pursue a passenger who jumped out of the vehicle and ran.

Criminal complaints filed over the weekend said Shaw, 25, did the latter and died a short time later after being shot during the foot chase.

Authorities later tracked down the alleged driver of the SUV, Tavon Jamere Harper, 27, of New Kensington, who identified his passenger as Rahmael Sal Holt, 29, of Harrison , the complaints said.

Holt is accused of firing multiple shots that wounded Shaw, police said.

Harper was arrested Sunday on fleeing and drug charges. He does not face charges in connection with Shaw's death.

Holt remained on the loose late Monday. He is charged with homicide in the officer's death.

An affidavit of probable cause filed Saturday against Holt and released Monday details the moments before the shooting, which were captured on surveillance video from a Leishman Avenue residence.

At about 8 p.m. Friday, Shaw was on patrol in the 1200 block of New Kensington's Leishman Avenue when he notified Westmoreland County 911 that he was pulling over a Jeep Cherokee for what District Attorney John Peck described as a traffic violation.

"It was something minor," he said.

Shaw reported to dispatchers that a man ran from the vehicle.

"Within moments of that transmission, Patrolman Shaw notifies the 911 center that shots had been fired and he was hit by the gunfire," Westmoreland County Detective Ray Dupilka wrote in the complaint.

Police say the surveillance footage shows Shaw pursuing a man, whom police believe to be Holt, in the direction of Victoria Avenue, according to the complaint. The footage shows Holt opening fire on Shaw from a vacant lot and then, after wounding the officer, heading around a building and into an alley between Leishman and Victoria avenues, the complaint said.

Harper allegedly continued driving, Dupilka wrote in court papers.

Shaw was pronounced dead at Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison at 8:50 p.m.

Police located the unoccupied SUV a few hours later parked outside Harper's Kenneth Avenue home. On Saturday, Harper admitted to driving it and told investigators that he clipped Holt with the vehicle as Holt jumped out with a gun, according to court papers. Harper allegedly "delivered a quantity of marijuana" to Holt in Arnold prior to the attempted traffic stop.

A search of Harper's home Saturday turned up two bundles of stamp bags of suspected heroin and $2,500, a complaint said.

Harper was arraigned Sunday morning. He is being held in Westmoreland County Prison on $500,000 bail. He did not have an attorney listed in online court records.

Investigators from local, state and federal agencies worked "tirelessly" during the weekend to conduct interviews in an effort to find Holt, Peck said. Police are continuing to search for him. In one of the many searches police have conducted for Holt since Friday night, state police and U.S. Marshals searched a home Monday afternoon in the 1200 block of Victoria Avenue in New Kensington.

Holt was not found and no arrests were made. The house is only about a block from the scene of Shaw's death on Leishman Avenue. It was at least the third home in the vicinity of the killing police have searched since Saturday.

According to WPXI-TV, police also raided a home in West Mifflin on Monday, looking for Holt. Although he was not found, police arrested one person in the home on unrelated charges.

"Although Officer Shaw was fairly new to the force, there was a tremendous amount of respect from the other officers," Peck said.

Anyone with information on Holt's whereabouts should call 911. He is considered to be armed and dangerous.

Attempts to reach several of Holt's family members were unsuccessful Monday.

WPXI reported Monday that Holt's mother, who the station did not name or show on camera, said her son wanted to turn himself in if he thinks he can do so safely.

A $55,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his arrest.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta. Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak contributed.