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Mother: Shooting fault of police

| Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2003

The mother of a McKeesport woman injured when police shot a pit bull running loose said Tuesday that officers mishandled the situation.

McKeesport police Chief Ron Willard said the dog had threatened three children and an adult before charging the woman who was injured and the two officers. Detectives are continuing their investigation of the incident Monday evening in the 2300 block of Jenny Lind Avenue, Willard said.

Allegheny County police were called in to attempt to reconstruct the crime scene and conduct ballistics tests, county Homicide Sgt. Chris Kearns said.

No charges had been filed yesterday against dog owner Soroiya Tillman, who lives two doors from the 18-year-old woman who was hit in the left forearm.

"If they would have let her take my dog home, then he would still be alive today," Tillman said of Smoke, her 2-year-old pit bull that police shot and killed.

Tillman said she generally kept Smoke either inside the house or on a chain in her back yard.

A bullet fragment remains lodged in the woman's arm and is expected to be removed Thursday, said the woman's mother, Jackie Jenkins, who said she witnessed the entire incident from her front porch.

Police did not know whether the woman was struck directly by a bullet, by a ricocheted bullet or by flying debris. Jenkins said doctors have confirmed it was a bullet.

Willard would not release a written report about the incident, saying the investigation is continuing. Neither he nor Jenkins would identify the woman who was injured.

Willard said the initial report of a loose pit bull came to police at 7:20 p.m. Monday. Officers Shelley Gould and Jon Harrison responded after hearing that the dog chased a mother and her 8-year-old child as well as two children riding bikes down the street.

"We know of at least one adult and three juveniles who were attacked but not bit," Willard said.

On arrival, officers determined that the dog belonged to Tillman, who was not home at the time.

Jenkins said that shortly after the two officers arrived, her daughter pulled up in a car and parked across the street, phoning Jenkins to ask why police were there. The teenager hung up when she realized her mother was on the porch.

Willard said Jenkins' daughter was attempting to put the dog back on Tillman's property when the dog charged her.

"The officers were able to divert the dog's attention to them, and when he came at them, they fired two shots," Willard said.

It is not clear whether they hit the dog at that point, but Jenkins said her daughter was standing on the sidewalk less than 10 feet away when those shots were fired.

Willard said the dog ran down the street but came back toward the officers, one of whom fired another shot.

Jenkins agreed at least three shots were fired but said she lost track of the sequence of events once she realized her daughter had been hurt.

She said the entire incident could have been averted if police had allowed her daughter to obtain a key to Tillman's house from a neighbor across the street.

"If there was any reason for my daughter to fear that dog, I would never have sent her out to get him," Jenkins said.

Although Jenkins and Tillman acknowledged that Smoke got out of his yard on occasion, Willard said he could find no previous record of any complaints involving the dog.

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