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Woman shot in South Side pursuit recovering

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By Adam Smeltz
Saturday, April 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Wilkinsburg woman who Pittsburgh police shot at the end of a South Side pursuit in January left intensive care but remains in recovery, enduring severe headaches at home as a bullet fragment lingers in her skull, her lawyer said Friday.

Lena Davenport, 49, “has made good progress in terms of being able to resume her daily life to some extent,” said Uptown-based lawyer J. Kerrington Lewis. He said Davenport can move around and take care of herself with help from her family.

But she still has general “cognitive problems” as the city fights a civil rights lawsuit filed on her behalf, Lewis said.

Davenport took a bullet in the head just before 2 a.m. Jan. 13, when her son Donald Burris Jr., 32, led police on a car chase that started in Homestead. She was his sole passenger.

Police said Burris ran a red light, fled an attempted traffic stop and led officers about five miles to East Carson Street. He smashed into parked cars before stopping in a hail of bullets near 13th Street.

The wayward Buick was a direct threat to pedestrians and officers as bars emptied for the night, city police said. They charged Burris with 15 counts including aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and fleeing police. He faces arraignment April 30. Burris was released on bail March 8.

Forthcoming evidence should explain Burris' actions, said defense attorney Anne Marie Mancuso. Police are expected to release footage from municipal traffic cameras by the end of the month.

“Any civilian or citizen in the same circumstances would have had the same concerns as Donald had that evening,” said Mancuso, who works in the Allegheny County Office of Conflict Counsel, which represents needy defendants when the public defender's office has a conflict. “I believe very passionately that his reasoning was totally substantiated by the facts.”

Acting Pittsburgh police Chief Regina McDonald would not comment because an investigation remains open, spokeswoman Diane Richard said Friday. Homestead Mayor Betty Esper said the borough council has yet to decide how it will respond to Davenport's civil litigation, which lists both municipalities as defendants.

“The law is the law. Why do people think they can just do what they want?” Esper said. “They almost killed people.”

Filed Feb. 15 in federal court, Davenport's lawsuit also names four Pittsburgh police officers and two Homestead officers. City attorneys this week filed a motion to dismiss the suit, writing among several rebuttals that the case lacks sufficient facts and that Davenport was not an intended target.

Lewis has argued that borough officers disregarded orders to terminate the pursuit, that city officers used too much force in opening fire and that both municipalities should have been better prepared to handle a car chase.

“It's a question of excessive force and firing weapons indiscriminately,” Lewis said, noting that one Pittsburgh officer fired on the wrong vehicle.

Two weeks after the shooting, then-city police Chief Nate Harper issued an order that prohibits officers from firing into a moving vehicle “unless there are shots being fired from that vehicle.”

Burris and Davenport were not armed.

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

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