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Bridgeville officer on paid leave in woman's fatal leap

| Friday, Feb. 19, 2010

Bridgeville officials have placed a police officer on paid leave while police and the Allegheny County District Attorney's office investigate why a woman in his custody fell to her death last week.

Jessica Tucker, 28, of East Sparta, Ohio, died Feb. 9 -- four hours after she jumped a retaining wall and fell 35 feet into a parking lot at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon. She jumped after having broken away from the officer, a 14-year veteran of the department.

In the week since she died, investigators increasingly have viewed Tucker, who had a broken rib and facial bones, as a victim of domestic abuse, Bridgeville police Chief Chad King said Thursday.

"I think he was starting to view her as a victim more than as a prisoner. He is quite distraught over this," King said.

Tucker was handcuffed as the officer, whom King did not identify, was escorting Tucker to Allegheny County Jail from St. Clair's emergency room.

"He was probably being sympathetic to her," King said. "Prisoners should be handcuffed -- there are some exceptions."

Police arrested Tucker that afternoon after officers discovered a suspected methamphetamine lab in a Hickman Street apartment, where she was staying with Pete Nitzsche and Tammy Hines, both of Ohio. Police are seeking Nitzsche and Hines.

Earlier that day, Tucker went to a jewelry store and asked to use the phone. The owner then called police.

Tucker told King that her boyfriend had fled in her car and taken her cell phone and purse, but she gave a false name for her boyfriend and said she didn't want police to look for him. Tucker said she, Hines and Nitzsche were staying in the Hickman Avenue apartment with the permission of the landlord -- which King said turned out to be false.

When King and the landlord showed up at the apartment, Tucker refused to let them inside.

Tucker, whose 6-year-old child is being raised by Tucker's estranged mother, was arrested. She later claimed she broke an ankle while walking down steps, which King said the reason that police took her to St. Clair Hospital.

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