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Officer justified in killing Lower Burrell man, DA Peck says

Chuck Biedka
| Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, 6:41 p.m.

The fatal shooting of a 33-year-old Lower Burrell man by a police officer in the spring was ruled justified, Westmoreland County District Attorney John W. Peck said Wednesday.

Michael Hutchman, 33, of Violet Drive died when a Lower Burrell officer shot him in the head May 10.

Peck said he would not release the name of the officer involved because the actions of the police officer were “appropriate and completely justified.” He said he would have released the officer’s name if he had found the shooting had not been justified.

Peck said police responded about 9:30 p.m. to a violent domestic dispute at Hutchman’s house, where the victim said Hutchman had choked her, threatened to kill her and burn the house.

Authorities say children were present.

The victim called 911 and emergency dispatchers sent Lower Burrell, Upper Burrell and New Kensington police to the house, which is at the end of dark, short street.

When police arrived, the officers heard Hutchman yelling at them to get off his property; Peck said Hutchman started walking “aggressively” toward them.

Peck said Hutchman was holding a small child in front of him and grabbing a handgun from his pants pocket.

One patrolman fired once and the bullet hit Hutchman in the jaw.

That impact knocked Hutchman to the ground onto his back.

But still clutching the child, Hutchman sat up, pointed his .40-caliber pistol at police and fired.

But Peck said Hutchman’s loaded gun failed to fire and Hutchman fell onto his back a second time.

Yet seconds later, Hutchman released the child and sat up to point his pistol at police again, Peck said.

This time, the same officer fired a fatal shot to Hutchman’s head.

“The suspect’s decision to ignore instructions from the police to disarm, his previous homicidal threats, his use of a small child as a shield and his continued advance toward police officers menacing a firearm justified the use of deadly force for the protection of the police officer and the protection of other officers.

Hutchman was a father and his death was a tragedy, Peck said, but the officers “made a significant effort to de-escalate the erupting violence by identifying themselves as police officers and seeking to speak to the suspect.

“Regrettably, the effort to decrease the intensity of the situation was met by an adamant refusal by the suspect to follow commands of the police,” Peck said.

Police were confronted by a tense, uncertain, rapidly evolving situation in which a split-second decision needed to be made, Peck said.

Lower Burrell police Chief Tim Weitzel said police have a duty to protect citizens and sometimes have to use deadly force.

Peck noted that two area police officers, Lower Burrell Patrolman Derek Kotecki, on Oct. 12, 2011, and New Kensington Patrolman Brian David Shaw on Nov. 11, 2017, died from assailant’s bullets in recent years.

According to the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Fund, 38 officers have been shot to death since Jan. 1.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, cbiedka@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.

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