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Allegheny

Bruce Kelley Jr.'s family sues officers who killed him after he stabbed K-9

Megan Guza
| Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, 3:09 p.m.
A screen grab from video footage shown by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, of an incident involving Bruce Kelley Jr., 37, and police on Sunday in Wilkinsburg.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A screen grab from video footage shown by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, of an incident involving Bruce Kelley Jr., 37, and police on Sunday in Wilkinsburg.
A screen grab from video footage shown by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, of an incident involving Bruce Kelley Jr., 37, and police on Sunday in Wilkinsburg.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A screen grab from video footage shown by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, of an incident involving Bruce Kelley Jr., 37, and police on Sunday in Wilkinsburg.
Bruce Kelley Jr. and his niece.
Submitted
Bruce Kelley Jr. and his niece.

The family of a homeless man shot and killed by Port Authority of Allegheny County police last year in Wilkinsburg has sued the officers involved, the county, the Port Authority and its police department, claiming officers escalated the situation and killed a man who posed no threat.

Port Authority police shot Bruce Kelley Jr. seven times Jan. 31, 2016, after a slow-moving foot pursuit through Wilkinsburg, which culminated with Kelley fatally stabbing a police dog and officers opening fire.

Washington, Pa.-based attorney Noah Geary filed the lawsuit. He is representing Kelley's mother, Johnnie Mae Kelley, and sister, Calisia Kelley.

An Allegheny County spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit. A Port Authority spokesman said the authority had not yet received the lawsuit as of Tuesday afternoon.

Kelley and his father, Bruce Kelley Sr., had been drinking in a Wilkinsburg gazebo near the East Busway when Port Authority police confronted them.

A scuffle ensued, and the younger Kelley drew a small knife and walked away, ignoring pepper spray, Taser barbs and repeated orders from police to stop.

A pursuit ensued and ended when police released a K-9 on Kelley Jr. He stabbed and killed the dog, and Port Authority Sgt. Brian O'Malley and Officer Dominic Ravotti opened fire, killing Kelley.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. in June 2016 said the use of deadly force was justified.

The lawsuit disputes the narrative from police and Zappala's office. It accuses several officers — including O'Malley and Rivotti — of escalating the situation and, in once instance, lying.

Geary wrote that no confrontation ensued, and that Kelley Sr. did not punch a female officer in the face as police claimed. He said that Kelley walked away while officers interacted with his father.

Kelley had the knife for self-protection, as he was homeless, Geary wrote. He said Kelley did not threaten the officers with the knife, nor did he threaten any form of violence.

“Furthermore,” Geary wrote, “(Kelley) simply walked away from the officers, at a slow pace. At no time did he run or use evasive or furtive movements.”

Video of part of the incident shows a group of more than a dozen officers following behind Kelley as he walked away, keeping a distance with weapons drawn.

Geary contended that Kelley was likely afraid of the officers.

Kelley was cornered against a Whitney Street home when O'Malley announced that he would release the dog if Kelley did not drop the knife. Kelley replied that he would stab the dog. O'Malley released the dog.

Geary noted that the dog bit Kelley's left arm rather than his right, with which he held the knife. When Kelley stabbed the dog, K-9 Aren, officers opened fire. Aren later died from his injuries.

The lawsuit claims excessive force by the officers and demands damages to be decided by a jury.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

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