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Westmoreland coroner to hold inquest into police shooting

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Friday, March 22, 2013, 10:39 a.m.
 

Store surveillance video taken just before a fatal altercation between a Pennsylvania State Police trooper and a former Scottdale man could be made public as part of the coroner's inquest to be held Tuesday into the deadly shooting.

Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha will convene the formal inquiry into the death of Seth W. O'Donnell, 26, who was shot and killed by Trooper Chad Cope during the confrontation.

Such investigations are routinely held in this county for any fatal shooting involving police officers.

As many as 10 witnesses are expected to testify about the Jan. 4 incident at the East Huntingdon Save-A-Lot grocery store.

State police spokesman Steve Limani said Friday that video from a surveillance system inside the store was viewed by police during a preliminary investigation.

Police concluded that Cope acted in self-defense in the confrontation with O'Donnell, who slashed the trooper with scissors.

“It was pretty cut-and-dried what happened, but he had to do it,” Limani said.

Cope, a 10-year veteran, has returned to active patrol duty.

Cope sustained multiple stab wounds in the confrontation, according to state police.

O'Donnell died in the parking lot outside the store in the Cross Roads Plaza off Route 819.

Police initially responded to a call that O'Donnell was acting aggressively toward an employee with a pair of scissors just after 9 a.m. Police had received a similar report earlier that morning about O'Donnell acting in a threatening manner with scissors in a nearby Wal-Mart store. He had recently moved into the nearby Mt. Pleasant Village Mobile Home Park.

Witnesses said Cope first attempted to get O'Donnell to drop the scissors.

But an altercation ensued as O'Donnell stabbed the trooper with the scissors.

Police said the trooper shot O'Donnell after attempting to subdue him with a stun gun.

“After conclusion of the preliminary investigation by the department, there was no sign of any wrongdoing so he (Cope) was removed from restrictive duty,” Limani said of Cope, who received stitches for his wounds.

Limani said state police will await a finding from the coroner's inquest before closing the investigation.

Bacha said Friday that O'Donnell died from multiple gunshot wounds to the chest.

The coroner has hired Greensburg attorney Jon Greiner to act as hearing officer as witnesses are questioned by District Attorney John Peck.

Greiner is expected to issue a formal report to Bacha, who will then recommend to Peck if any criminal charges should be filed.

Bacha has previously convened inquests in several other police shootings. None concluded with a recommendation that criminal charges be filed.

“This is more of a formality but we treat all officer-involved shootings the same,” Bacha said. “I don't want anybody to say we give special treatment because they are police.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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