Witness in New Kensington cop killer’s case transferred amid safety concerns
A key witness in the trial of convicted New Kensington cop killer Rahmael Holt has been transferred out of the Westmoreland County Prison, the District Attorney’s Office said Friday .
Assistant District Attorney Jim Lazar said Tavon Harper is being held in Washington County “for his protection.”
Harper, 29, was driving the SUV that Holt jumped out of before shooting and killing New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw on Leishman Avenue on Nov. 17, 2017.
Lazar said, despite the transfer, his office was not aware of direct threats against Harper. He said he did not know when the transfer occurred.
Harper’s attorney, Jeffrey Weinberg, said he did not know that Harper had been transferred. He declined to comment further.
He was the only witness who placed Holt in the vehicle, Holt defense attorney Tim Dawson said during the trial. Harper testified he saw Holt carrying a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun on the day of the shooting and that he had sold cocaine and marijuana to Holt.
Harper also testified he wanted to stop when Shaw tried to pull over the Jeep he was driving, but that Holt would not let him. Harper said Holt jumped out because he would not allow Holt to hide the gun in the SUV.
Harper, who had been released on parole in August of that year, said he kept driving after Holt jumped out. He continued to his home on Kenneth Avenue because, he said, he did not want to go back to jail. He testified that he did not hear the shots.
Harper testified that prosecutors had not offered him anything in exchange for cooperating in Holt’s trial. Harper is charged with fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer and drug offenses.
The court docket in Harper’s case shows two transportation orders, on Nov. 12 and Nov. 19, approved by Westmoreland County President Judge Rita Hathaway, who presided over Holt’s trial.
Harper is scheduled for trial before Hathaway on Dec. 2.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .