Self-defense at issue in shooting at North Versailles Walmart
A shooting at the North Versailles Walmart raises questions about self-defense and when deadly force is justified, legal experts told the Tribune-Review on Monday.
Rojanai Germaine Alston, 22, of Penn Hills faces charges of attempted homicide and aggravated assault following an altercation Friday in which she is accused of wounding one woman and shooting at another in the store’s electronics section. Police said the women assaulted Alston before she opened fire.
“You do not have a duty to retreat. However, the use of force must be reasonable under the circumstances,” said Pittsburgh defense attorney David Shrager, who isn’t involved in the case.
Generally, in order to use deadly force, such as shooting a gun, a person needs to reasonably believe they are in danger of serious bodily injury or death, Shrager said.
Where it happens also is a factor, Shrager said. Being in a fight in a dark alley would be different than being in a Walmart, he said.
Alston does not have an attorney listed in court documents, and attempts to reach her Monday were unsuccessful.
Police said Alston was jumped by the two women about 9:30 p.m. Friday. The women have not been identified nor charged. Police said after the women assaulted Alston and pulled her hair, she reached into her purse and pulled a handgun.
The unidentified women ran in separate directions. Alston fired at least four shots at one of them and then walked down an aisle and fired at the other, hitting her in the leg and hand, according to a criminal complaint. Police said they used Walmart’s surveillance video to piece together what happened.
Alston then walked back up the aisle, picked up her purse and left the store, police said. She turned herself in to police Saturday and was charged. She is free on $25,000 bail.
Alston had a concealed-carry permit that was issued in 2018 and valid through 2023, according to the criminal complaint. Having such a permit doesn’t “relieve someone’s obligations to follow the rule of law,” Shrager said.
Filing charges like these are “tough calls” for a district attorney, said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Saint Vincent College. Prosecutors need to ask if the shooting and the use of force was justified under the circumstances, Antkowiak said. They also have to determine whether there was intent to kill, he said.
“They will need to talk to the other witnesses and study the tape and come up with a final conclusion of the appropriate charges they can sustain in the case,” Antkowiak said.
People who carry guns need to have the proper training to know when they should use them, said William Bickerton, another defense attorney who has offices in Cranberry and Ross. Bickerton also isn’t involved in this case, but he has represented clients who have defended themselves with guns.
“If you’re not in fear of imminent death or serious bodily injury, you really shouldn’t be firing your weapon,” Bickerton said. “When you fire that weapon, you’re definitely using deadly force.”
He advises people to “do everything they can” to avoid using a gun. Even drawing a weapon can escalate a situation, he said.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .