Officers who fired at car in South Side chase cleared for duty
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Friday that it's “way too early” to judge if Pittsburgh police were justified when they opened fire on a crowded South Side street at the end of a car chase.
Zappala said his office is reviewing the actions of the five police officers, who were working off-duty security details at the time of the incident early Sunday. One of the officers' bullets hit Lena Davenport — the passenger in the car fleeing police — in the right eye, causing brain damage, family members said. The car was moving at the time, Zappala said.
Another bullet grazed a pedestrian. One officer fired at the wrong car, which Zappala said was a “problem.”
Davenport's son, Donald Burris Jr., 32, of Carnegie, was driving when police said he ran a red light in Homestead and took off when Homestead police tried to pull him over.
Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said the officers — Steve Matakovich, Calvin Kennedy, Igor Boyko, Louis Schweitzer and Thomas Gorecki — have been cleared to return to duty.
“This is not an indication of our final findings of this incident. It is a determination by a mental health professional that they are psychologically fit for duty,” Donaldson said.
Zappala said the car was driving recklessly between 45 and 50 mph as Burris and Davenport fled to a busy Carson Street just as bars were letting out at 1:45 a.m. The chase was becoming more and more dangerous as it reached the densely populated nightlife area, Zappala said.
Zappala said that Burris told police he was trying to buy crack cocaine for his mother prior to running the red light but that he was ripped off. As Burris was leaving, he ran the red light and police tried to pull him over, Zappala said.
“He said his mom tells him, ‘You didn't do anything wrong. Take off,'” Zappala said.
That account sparked a sharp rebuke from Davenport's brother, William Davenport, 52, of the Hill District.
“He never said anything like that. He can't stand drugs,” William Davenport said of Burris. “That's not true. They came up with that story days later. He's so against drugs.
“As for (police) reviewing the case, they're just trying to cover their backs. They're grasping at straws. It's ridiculous.”
Lena Davenport, 49, of Wilkinsburg remains hospitalized. The wound prompted multiple surgeries and partial removal of her skull.
Chief Nate Harper and a union official have defended the officers' actions. 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.
J. Kerrington Lewis, who is representing Lena Davenport, said his client “is in no condition to respond to what the DA is reporting.”
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Owner of Penn Hills tombstone business pleads guilty to swindling the bereaved out of $90K
- Pgh. International leader strives to inject Pittsburgh flavor into airport
- Groups seek $2.5M for North Side’s historic West Park fountain
- Ramp projects across Western Pennsylvania to start this week
- Fire reported at recycling facility in Braddock
- Falling bricks close 2 Squirrel Hill businesses
- Man shot in Hill District
- ‘Swing Night’ has feel of Prohibition-era dance hall
- No injuries reported in Holy Family Manor fire in Ross
- Newsmaker: Janice Cherry
- Brookline 12-year-old crashes mother’s car