Bullet grazed woman in South Side chase; mayor OK with police response
Sydnee Lucas watched a car zoom past her on the South Side early Sunday, heard the shots and then felt the pain.
Lucas, 24, was among hundreds of people on the sidewalks outside East Carson Street's bars and nightclubs when five Pittsburgh police officers opened fire on a car. A stray bullet grazed her lower back.
“Someone could have been killed — an innocent bystander,” said her father, Paul Lucas, 53, of Monroeville. “Talking about it, I get angry again. Things like this can't happen. You just endangered the public on something that didn't require this kind of force.”
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said police acted to “keep residents safe” when officers shot the driver of a car and his mother in the passenger seat at the culmination of a 5-mile police pursuit through several communities. Officers fired at several points along East Carson during the pursuit that started when the driver ran a red light in Homestead at about 1:40 a.m., police said.
“Our officers are trained to make sure they keep residents safe, and at that moment, that's what they felt they were doing,” Ravenstahl said.
The driver, Donald Burris Jr., 32, and his mother, Lena Davenport, 49, both of Wilkinsburg, were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. Officials did not provide information on their conditions.
The officers involved — Steve Matakovich, Calvin Kennedy, Igor Boyko, Louis Schweitzer and Thomas Gorecki — were working off-duty security details. The city placed them on paid administrative leave while police investigate, which is standard procedure.
Investigators shared few details about the mother-son duo. Court records show Burris has an arrest record and spent time in jail for a 2008 conviction on theft and forgery charges. Davenport's landlord called her a quiet, pleasant woman who keeps an immaculate home. Relatives could not be reached.
Deputy police Chief Paul Donaldson said he expected investigators to charge the driver with assaulting an officer, reckless endangerment and other crimes. Burris was shot in the arm and broke his arm when the Buick crashed.
Davenport was more seriously injured with a gunshot wound in her face, police said.
Police said they had not determined how many bullets officers fired when Burris sped into the busy strip at the height of the neighborhood's nightlife about 1:45 a.m. Two officers were in the street clearing club-goers to sidewalks when the Buick approached, fleeing Homestead and West Homestead officers, police said.
“The public was endangered, and also the officers were endangered,” Donaldson said.
The car crashed into numerous vehicles along East Carson before coming to a stop between 13th and 14th streets.
Video posted online by an eyewitness shows an officer on top of the hood of a car pointing his gun into the stopped vehicle. A popping sound can be heard. Donaldson said the officer was on the hood for the vantage point but didn't fire into the car.
“We're still reviewing videos and trying to get videos from all vantage points to see who did what,” police spokeswoman Diane Richard said.
Sydnee Lucas, who is from Monroeville and is studying for her master's degree in Houston, said she was out with friends near 17th and Carson when she heard officers scream for people to get out of the way.
“I knew something hit me, and I knew I heard shots. It's the closest I've ever been to a situation like that,” said Lucas, speaking from Texas.
She said she approached an officer to show him her injury, but he brushed her off so she went to a friend's house and called 911. About four hours later, an officer arrived to take a brief report, she said. Lucas is a nurse, as was her friend, so they cleaned her wound themselves.
“Fortunately, I was with a group of people that we could handle that kind of situation,” she said. “In all regards, that was just very fortunate for me. I don't know how other people would've handled it or what a difference a matter of centimeters would've made.”
Ravenstahl said he would talk about the shooting in more detail on Tuesday in a news conference where he will discuss a $100,000 study of the South Side bar scene and its problems. The city last year hired the California-based Responsibility Hospitality Institute to examine neighborhood entertainment venues and their problems and recommend resolutions.
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said her office opened an inquiry into the incident.
Her office is investigating Schweitzer's response to a 911 call from a Larimer woman seeking help on Dec. 31. He and a fellow officer left without speaking with the woman, Ka'Sandra Wade, whose body police found in the house the next day.
In July 2000, Matakovich and another city officer were working security at a Strip District night club when they fatally shot Michael Platt, 28, of Garfield, who was shooting into the crowd and killed a pedestrian. Authorities said the officers that night not only acted properly but likely saved lives.
City Councilman Bruce Kraus of the South Side, who has called for more police officers and other changes, could not be reached.
“I think the hardest thing to understand is that's probably the busiest street in Pittsburgh at the busiest time,” Sydnee Lucas said. “It's hard to understand how you could just open fire like that.”
Burris was charged in December with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct in Carnegie, court records show, and he pleaded guilty last year to a harassment charge. In 2009, a judge sentenced him to probation when Bridgeville police charged him with a range of crimes, including giving false identification, fleeing and obstructing police.
In 2008, he was sentenced to up to two years in jail in Crawford County on theft and forgery charges. Court records show two women accused him of domestic abuse in requests for protection-from-abuse orders.
Yvonne Zellars, the Wilkinsburg landlord who owns Davenport's home, called the situation “so sad.”
“I hope she does all right,” said Zellars, 67, who has rented a South Avenue home to Davenport for about a year. She hasn't seen much foot traffic at the house, and Davenport gives her no problems, Zellars said.
She said Davenport has chronic pain and does not appear to have a job. Zellar said Davenport enjoys planting flowers around the house and sits outside on a porch in better weather.
“She seemed to mind her own business,” Zellars said.
Staff writers Bob Bauder and Michael Hasch contributed to this report. Adam Smeltz and Margaret Harding are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Harding can be reached at 412-380-8519 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Smeltz can be reached at 412-380-5676 or email@example.com.