'They shot the wrong guy' says ex-wife of homeowner police shot dead during reported robbery
Brenda Thompkins awoke early Sunday morning to find a stranger standing near the bed in which she and her ex-husband, Christopher Thompkins, were sleeping on the second floor of his Larimer home. Startled, the couple jumped out of bed, and the intruder fled the room, Thompkins said.
Minutes later, Pittsburgh police officers responding to a burglary call at the house in the 100 block of Finley Street arrived, according to Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler. It was shortly before 4 a.m. When officers tried to enter the house from the front porch, someone inside began shooting in their direction, Toler said. Officers returned fire, killing the 57-year-old homeowner later identified by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office as Christopher Thompkins.
“They shot the wrong guy,” said Brenda Thompkins, 51, of Penn Hills. “He didn't want to hurt no cops. He was trying to save his mother.”
She said her ex-husband was concerned about his mother, who was in a room downstairs. Brenda Thompkins said she has a license to carry a pistol, which her ex-husband asked her for after the intruder left the room. She said he retrieved the gun from her purse and left the room.
“He was just saying, ‘My mom, my mom,'” Brenda Thompkins said. “That's all he was worrying about.”
Brenda Thompkins said she then called 911 and fled onto a roof behind the house, although she said she believes an alarm company first contacted police. She heard gunshots, and a few minutes later police came in and took her from the roof, she said. On her way through the house, she saw her ex-husband's body under a blanket on the stairs. Another man was handcuffed and seated on a couch downstairs, she said.
Christopher Thompkins was pronounced dead at 4:08 a.m., according to the Medical Examiner's Office.
On Monday morning police said that Juan Brian Jetter-Clark, 23, was arrested and charged with criminal trespass.
As is protocol, the officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave, Toler said.
“There is an ongoing investigation with oversight of the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office,” she said. “Additional information will be released by the Bureau at the appropriate time.”
Toler said the pair are male patrol officers from Zone 5. One of the officers has been on the force 7 1⁄2 years and the other 4 1⁄2 years. Both were in uniform during the shooting, Toler said.
No officers were injured during the shooting, Toler said.
Pittsburgh police said they would not identify the officers until after the investigation is complete. Acting Chief Scott Schubert declined comment while at the scene Sunday afternoon.
District Attorney spokesman Mike Manko said the office had no comment.
Robert Swartzwelder, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1, said it is union policy not to comment on matters pending investigation.
Beth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizens Police Review Board, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Officers in police-involved shootings are not interviewed until 48 hours after the incident, Toler said.
Pittsburgh police on Sunday were trying to determine whether video cameras at the front and rear entrances of the house contained footage of the shooting, Toler said. Three other people — including an elderly woman — who live in the house were home at the time of the shooting, Toler said.
Police removed for evidence a front screen door that had six to eight holes in it. It was unclear whether the holes were the result of the shooting. There were no holes in the front door, which remained attached to the house after police removed the screen door.
County assessment records indicate Thompkins bought the home in 2011.
He ran afoul of the law years earlier.
Court records show Christopher Thompkins was convicted of homicide in connection to a 1994 incident and sentenced to serve seven to 15 years in prison. His sentence was vacated in 1999.
Brenda Thompkins said her ex-husband had worked multiple jobs and owned a cleaning business. She said they reconciled and became a couple again about seven years ago.
“He was a good guy, changed his whole life around,” Brenda Thompkins said.
George Phillips, 65, a former Pittsburgh police officer who lives on the 500 block of Finley, said he chatted often with Thompkins about sports and about Thompkins' cars — a Jaguar and, more recently, a BMW. He said Thompkins dressed nicely and was often home.
“He never bothered with anybody. His house was immaculate,” Phillips said.
Phillips said he has lived in the neighborhood more than 30 years. He said the street, blocks away from Washington Boulevard, is normally quiet and safe.
Other neighbors who did not want to be identified said gunshots sometimes can be heard in the distance from nearby Homewood but otherwise described the area as quiet.
Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com.