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Rookie defended in South Side shooting

| Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A rookie Pittsburgh police officer who started street patrol last month shot a bank robbery suspect in the shoulder during a traffic stop.

Officer Raymond Murray, sworn in May 5, and his training officer, Patrolman Jeffrey Abraham, who has three years of experience, will remain on paid administrative leave as detectives investigate their encounter in the South Side with Douglas Lee Higgins, 54, of Penn Hills, police Chief Nate Harper said Tuesday.

The shooting will not keep Murray from graduating this summer with his class, police spokeswoman Diane Richard said. Murray and the 38 other officers are in a three-month field-training period with more experienced officers during which they do not answer calls alone.

"He was a Pittsburgh police officer as soon as Chief Harper handed him his badge," Richard said. "He is just going through on-the-job training like many jobs require. And he was doing his job (Monday) night."

Harper said the officers from the Arlington station saw Higgins about 7:30 p.m. at 27th and Jane streets in a maroon 1998 Dodge Stratus, which matched the description and license plate information on a car used in a Penn Hills bank robbery that day.

Abraham and Murray, in a police van, followed the car as it turned onto a dead-end section of Jane Street, Harper said. When they got out of the van and approached the car, its driver put the car in reverse and sped at them, said police Sgt. Timothy Westwood.

The car struck the passenger side of the van about a foot from where Murray stood and he fired six shots, according to a police affidavit filed to support charges against Higgins. A bullet struck Higgins in the right shoulder. The Stratus crashed into some cement blocks.

"In fear of his life and the safety of his partner, he began firing," Westwood said of Murray.

Neither officer was injured. Higgins was taken to UPMC Mercy, Uptown, where he was in stable condition Tuesday, Westwood said.

Harper said Penn Hills police and the FBI are investigating the bank robbery. FBI Agent Bill Crowley referred questions to Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton, who did not return calls for comment. Harper said police believe Higgins was the man who robbed the Penn Hills bank but he couldn't provide information about that incident.

Inside the car, police found drugs and $360 in cash, Harper said.

Higgins faces charges of reckless endangerment, aggravated assault and fleeing or eluding a police officer. He has a criminal record dating to 1993 for charges including drunken driving, narcotics and firearms offenses, driving without a license, resisting arrest, receiving stolen property and tampering with evidence.

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