Advocates question the conduct of Allegheny County Port Authority Police officers surrounding death of Bruce Kelley Jr. | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Advocates question the conduct of Allegheny County Port Authority Police officers surrounding death of Bruce Kelley Jr.

“Their accountability process is not transparent and cannot be fully trusted.”

On Feb. 26, Port Authority’s leaders expressed their regrets in the shooting death of Bruce Kelley Jr., but offered little else. PAT CEO Ellen McLean said it was an “unfortunate and tragic incident” and PAT board chair Bob Hurley said “we are all very sorry” that a life was lost. However, both said they wouldn’t provide official comments until the Allegheny County District Attorney, who is investigating the incident, issued a report.

On Jan. 31, Kelley and his father were confronted by PAT officers for drinking in public. According to police, a fight broke out between the men and the officers, and Kelley Jr. fled. When officers caught up with Kelley, he was carrying a 3-inch blade and kept retreating from the officers. Eventually, a police dog was released and Kelley stabbed the dog, which died later. Kelley was shot at by PAT police 12 times and died from his wounds. 

Community members spoke out on Kelley’s death at the Feb. 26 PAT board meeting.

Local activist Dell Vann, who said he was speaking on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement, questioned why Bruce Kelley Jr. and his father were confronted in the first place. “People who tailgate and get drunk before and after Steelers games don’t get arrested,” Vann said.

click to enlarge Brandi Fisher, of the Alliance for Police Accountability - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
Photo by Ryan Deto
Brandi Fisher, of the Alliance for Police Accountability

After the shooting, PAT spokesperson Jim Ritchie told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that PAT police had received “a lot of concern coming from the community about Hamnett [Place Station] and this area of the gazebo.”   

Kelley and his father were found drinking in a gazebo in a small park at the corner of Wood Street and Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg, not a bus shelter, as many sources had previously reported. The gazebo is located in the middle of a sleepy business district and is about a seven-minute walk from Hamnett Place Station.

City Paper spoke to four local businesses that sit within the immediate vicinity of the gazebo. All said the gazebo is generally quiet during work hours and that they haven’t heard of many complaints about the tiny park. 

In December, a chaotic scene outside the Wood Street T Station erupted, started when police confronted a teen who allegedly hit the stop button on the escalator. As result, several more police units were called, and five arrests were made. PAT officials also defended their officers’ response to this incident by claiming Wood Street station had seen an increase in unruly activity, a claim widely reported in the media. However, CP issued a Right-To-Know request to PAT asking if their police force had any reports on the Wood Street T station, including strategies to manage it or special problems that have occurred there, and the authority could provide none.

Brandi Fisher, of the Alliance for Police Accountability, told the board she felt PAT Police has questionable accountability procedures. While the county DA is currently investigating the Kelley incident, that is not the normal procedure, Fisher says.

She says PAT Police, which has about 40 officers on duty, doesn’t have an independent body to investigate internal conduct. Fisher interviewed PAT Police Chief Matthew Porter after the Wood Street incident and was told internal investigations are completed by himself and two of his lieutenants.

Fisher says this method can be problematic because it is “police investigating police.” Furthermore, the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, which independently reviews misconduct of the city’s police, has no jurisdiction over PAT’s officers.

“In the past [PAT police] have not been used in the same capacity,” says Fisher. “Now that is changing, and they need to change their accountability process. Their accountability process is not transparent and cannot be fully trusted.”

Ritchie says the authority will not be commenting at this time or answering other related questions due to the ongoing investigation.

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