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Hon. Stephen A. Zappala, Jr.
District Attorney, Allegheny County
Allegheny County Building, Room 303
436 Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Dear District Attorney Zappala:
I am writing inquiring about the death of Bruce Tyrone Kelley, Jr., who was shot this past Sunday, January 31, 2016, in Wilkinsburg by Allegheny County Port Authority police officers. My understanding is that the incident which led to both the death of Mr. Kelley and the canine officer Aren, began because police noticed Mr. Kelley and his father drinking in a gazebo, a place where I understand such activity occurs on regular basis. It is extremely unfortunate that such a minor crime led to such a tragic end.
I understand that there may have been some scuffle between the police, Mr. Kelley and his father which followed the initial encounter, but in the video that was taken seconds or minutes before his death Bruce Kelley Jr. is seen walking away from the police officers. It also appeared from the video, that I reviewed several times, that there seemed to be 9 or 10 officers present. I understand that Tasers were used, but weren’t effective, but maybe they should have been used again in this situation. It is also my understanding that Mr. Kelley threatened to kill the dog if the dog were to be unleashed on him. If this was indeed the case, and since the dog had no protective gear on him, why was the dog unleashed on Mr. Kelley? Why was not another approach taken, including just ‘waiting out’ Mr. Kelley, and just letting him continue walking in the woods? It is important to note that Bruce Kelley Jr., in the initial moment that led to the police action, was merely drinking in public. He was not causing harm to anyone, but possibly himself. He was simply drinking with his father in a public gazebo. Such a ‘crime’ should not lead to one’s death!
According to one of the area reporters, Mr. Kelley was shot twelve times. I am personally a great dog lover and don’t believe in abusing animals. I have two dogs at home and I know how close people can be to their dogs, but that’s all the more reason for the dog to have been protected from the threats of Mr. Kelley. With Mr. Kelley being basically surrounded by 9 or 10 officers there should have been a way to prevent the death of both Mr. Kelley and canine officer Aren.
I appreciate the fact that you have made an inquiry with area police chiefs throughout Allegheny County as to how they use their police dogs, as well as the issue of protection for their dogs. I also appreciate that your office has begun an investigation into the question of whether the use of deadly force, in this instance, was justifiable. I ask that you consider that Mr. Kelley, Jr. was homeless, drinking and possibly drunk, all of which could have impaired any logical thinking on his part. I think such conditions should also be taken into consideration on the part of the police when interacting with such individuals. The Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) would also like to know if the appropriate verbal warnings were given before releasing the dog. We feel, however, because Mr. Kelley threatened to do harm to that dog that his warning should have been taken seriously and that canine officer Aren should not have been put into harm’s way. It appears to us, by examining the video that the police were under NO immediate threat to their safety in that Mr. Kelley was walking away, into the woods at the time he was shot and killed. The public, at large, was certainly under no threat.
Via this letter we are also sharing our concerns with other area public officials. This is a good time for all local law enforcement agencies and public officials to review their policies with regard to the use of canine in interactions with the public. There is also a historical issue to consider with the use of canine officers and African Americans. I hesitate to mention this, but I think there is some merit. Because of the frequent use of dogs by police, particularly in the South, during the height of the civil rights area to attack civil rights workers and demonstrators, there remains a high level of contempt for the use of dogs against citizens by police many African Americans. The reaction to the use of dogs in many tense situations between police and African Americans might be more emotional and intense than many might think.
The Black Political Empowerment Project looks forward to hearing of a full review of this situation and policies and procedures that might prevent such tragedies in the future. We stand with the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA) in sharing concerns about this very unfortunate incident.
Tim Stevens, Chairman & CEO, The Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP)
cc: County Exec Rich Fitzgerald; County Police Chief Charles Moffatt; Port Authority Chief Matthew Porter; Alleg. Co. Council Pres. John DeFazio; Alleg. Co. Council Public Safety Chair Jim Ellenbogen; Alleg. Co. Council; Mayor Bill Peduto; Chief Cameron McLay; Pgh. City Council; Brandi Fisher, APA; Connie Parker, NAACP; Esther L Bush, Urban League of Greater Pgh; Beth Pittinger, CPRB; Area Media