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Widow sues Pittsburgh police for shooting her husband during burglary call

Bob Bauder
| Monday, March 12, 2018, 3:45 p.m.
County workers remove a door from the Finley Street home in Larimer where police shot and killed homeowner Christopher Thompkins, 57, while responding to a reported burglary early in the morning Jan. 22, 2017.
Wes Venteicher | Tribune-Review
County workers remove a door from the Finley Street home in Larimer where police shot and killed homeowner Christopher Thompkins, 57, while responding to a reported burglary early in the morning Jan. 22, 2017.

A Penn Hills widow says Pittsburgh police responding to a burglary call in January 2017 fired blindly into her home and fatally shot her husband.

Brenda Richmond, 52, is suing the city, three unnamed officers and Police Chief Scott Schubert in federal court, leveling a wrongful death charge in the killing of her husband, Christopher Thompkins, 57, at their home in Larimer.

Police previously reported that officers returned fire on Jan. 22, 2017, after they attempted to enter the Finley Street house and someone from inside began shooting at them.

Richmond, who has since moved to Penn Hills, contends the officers waited at least five minutes after hearing shots before they began shooting.

“Our case is based upon indiscriminately firing into the house through the front door, shooting without any kind of announcement,” said Pittsburgh attorney J. Kerrington Lewis, who represents Richmond. “According to the information we have nobody ever announced ‘police' or whatever.”

Dan Gilman, Mayor Bill Peduto's chief of staff, declined comment.

Police arrested Juan Brian Jeter-Clark, 24, after finding him inside the house and charged him with a felony count of criminal trespassing. Jeter-Clark pleaded guilty last year and a judge sentenced him to nine months home confinement followed by five years of probation.

According to the lawsuit, Richmond and Thompkins awoke shortly before 4 a.m. and saw Jeter-Clark standing by their bed. Thompkins got a gun from inside the bedroom, told Richmond to call police and followed Jeter-Clark, who fled the room. Richmond heard one or two shots and found her husband at the top of their stairs holding the gun, according to the lawsuit. It does not specify whether Thompkins was the one who fired.

The lawsuit contends that Richmond and Thompkins talked at the top of the stairs about what they should do and Richmond spoke with Allegheny County Emergency Management personnel. The conversations lasted at least five minutes, according to the suit.

Officers then began shooting through a screen door into the dark house and hit Thompkins multiple times, according to the lawsuit.

Richmond is seeking punitive and compensatory damages and payment of attorney fees, contending among other things that officers used excessive force and were not properly trained in the use of deadly force.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office investigated the shooting, but has not announced the results. Zappala spokesman Mike Manko declined comment.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, or on Twitter @bobbauder.

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