Zappala not done investigating police who mistakenly shot Larimer homeowner
Allegheny County's top prosecutor said Thursday his investigation into the fatal police shooting of an East Liberty homeowner in January continues, and he accused city police of straying from normal procedure when his office attempted to investigate.
Police shot and killed 57-year-old Christopher Thompkins after they heard gunfire while responding Jan. 22 to a reported burglary at Thompkins's Finley Street home.
Juan Brian Jetter-Clark, 23, a suspect in the burglary, was subsequently charged with criminal trespass.
“My guys will get called out on scene, they'll take control of the scene and then report back to supervisors and give directions as to what they want done,” said District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.
Zappala said that process has been in place since 2002 during former Chief Robert McNeilly's tenure and, after he moved on in 2006, with the city of Pittsburgh.
“In connection with that particular matter,” Zappala said, referring to the Thompkins shooting, “the city unilaterally changed their relationship with my office.”
Specifically, he said, he felt his investigators were not able to get to the scene in a timely fashion and “talk to the people who could give us evidence.”
He stopped short of alleging obstruction by city police.
“We could not do the same things we had done historically,” he said. “Yeah, I'm concerned about it.”
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said he isn't clear about what Zappala means.
“I find that hard to believe because I, myself, was at that scene that morning, as well as Chief (Scott) Schubert, and the DA's investigators arrived,” he said. “There was no detriment to their access to that scene, and we assisted them and provided any guidance and assistance that they requested at that scene.”
Zappala said DA's office investigators have continued to speak with witnesses, but “not necessarily the person who discharged their weapon.” He said they were unable to speak with the officers involved the same day as the shooting.
“Once you start looking at video, stuff like that, you sit down with the lawyers – your testimony becomes less viable,” he said.
Hissrich said proper procedure was followed in interviewing the officers.
The officers involved in the shooting – who officials repeatedly have declined to identify – were on administrative leave for 10 days following the shooting. They returned to work Jan. 31.
The officers arrived at the Thompkins home shortly before 4 a.m. for a report of a break-in. They reported hearing shots and seeing a man walking downstairs toward the front door, where they were standing. They said the man was firing in their direction so they returned fire.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.