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Handling of police chase enrages Wilkinsburg woman's family

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 12:16 a.m.
Lena Davenport photo taken while she is in her hospital bed after the south side incident where she and her son were involved in a high speed chase on the South Side. (submitted photo)

The family of a Wilkinsburg woman whom Pittsburgh police shot at the end of a car chase is furious over the South Side incident, which left the woman brain-damaged, her brother said.

He said a bullet went through Lena Davenport's right eye when officers on East Carson Street opened fire early Sunday on a Buick driven by her son. The wound prompted multiple surgeries and a partial removal of her skull. Davenport, 49, remained in intensive care Thursday in UPMC Mercy, Uptown.

She doesn't remember what happened or recognize family members and might undergo more operations, said William Davenport, 52, of the Hill District.

“We're very outraged at the way the police handled themselves. For a traffic violation, I think the situation was handled very poorly,” he said.

Police would not immediately answer the criticism, citing an ongoing investigation into the incident and officers' actions. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office, which is looking into the matter, was not ready to discuss it, spokesman Mike Manko said.

“Providing a statement based on the handling of the incident would not be prudent at this time,” said police spokeswoman Diane Richard. Police officials “must ensure that all facts of the incident are accurate before providing information as appropriate for release.”

The city put five officers who opened fire on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure. Chief Nate Harper and a union official defended the officers' actions.

Lena Davenport was the sole passenger in the sedan when her son, Donald Burris Jr., 32, of Carnegie, ran a red light in Homestead, police said. He fled from an attempted traffic stop and led police five miles to East Carson Street, where he crashed in a hail of bullets.

Officers believed Burris endangered pedestrians and police, using the car as a weapon in a congested area, Harper has said.

Police charged Burris with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and fleeing an officer. He is in the county jail awaiting a Jan. 23 preliminary hearing.

William Davenport said police shot his nephew three times — in the chest, stomach and shoulder. Police initially said he was shot in the arm. Richard would not discuss his injuries.

Burris had gone to pick up his mother from a birthday party that night, his uncle said.

“She was just the innocent passenger,” said Leona Twyman of the West End, William Davenport's fiancee. She said Lena Davenport has “no idea” what happened. She can remember earlier events but has trouble comprehending her surroundings from her hospital bed, Twyman said.

“I'm almost positive that she's going to need assistance in every aspect,” Twyman said.

William Davenport said the family called Uptown-based attorney J. Kerrington Lewis and “wants to get to the truth of the matter.” Lewis confirmed he represents Lena Davenport and is investigating whether the shooting breached her civil rights.

“I think the circumstances have to be ferreted out, investigated thoroughly, and we'll go from there,” Lewis said.

“Our biggest concern right now is getting Lena back to health,” Davenport said, “if that's even possible.”

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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