Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said Thursday officials should re-examine the use of police dogs while dealing with suspects, as community members continue to question the fatal shooting of a man who killed a police K-9.
Zappala said the investigation into the death of Bruce T. Kelley Jr. is ongoing, but that video surveillance of the area has helped investigators piece together what happened.
Zappala said Kelley Jr. was approached Sunday near the Martin Luther King Jr. busway in Wilkinsburg. He and his father, Bruce T. Kelley Sr. were allegedly drinking alcohol, when approached by two officers. A male officer approached Kelley Jr. first.
“The second officer assists the first officer and what happens then, is Mr. Kelley Sr. grabs her, physically from behind, she pepper sprays him and he goes down. She returns to Kelley Jr., to assist the officer that had already been engaged. Kelley Sr. gets up … and then he tries to hit the female officer, she pepper sprays Kelley Sr. again, he goes down and he stays down,” said Zappala.
Back up officers were called in, and eventually nine to 10 officers pursued the younger Kelley.
Zappala played some of the surveillance video for members of the press, which showed Kelley Jr. being followed by the officers. One appeared to be pointing a weapon at him.
Kelley Jr. had a folding knife with a 4-inch blade, according to Zappala; and officers first tried to apprehend him by using a Taser. He was tased six times and pepper sprayed at least two times. Zappala said he was wearing four layers of clothing, which prevent the Taser from having an effect. That, Zappala said was appropriate on the use of force continuum.
“A K-9 is the last level of force before you use lethal force,” he said. "Before you can use a K-9, however, you have a give a warning to the person you’re going to put the dog on, that the dog is going to be used. I’m told that is what happened here.”
Zappala said this is an emotional situation for all sides, including the police officers who lost a K-9 officer and the family of Kelley Jr. He said the issues brought up in the aftermath should be addressed in a timely manner.
Following the death of Kelley Jr., some in the community criticized media coverage and said it focused on the dog, rather than the loss of human life. Others are calling into question the use of police dogs during suspect interactions in any situation.