The Penn Hills police officer who shot and killed a 20-year-old Pittsburgh man July 14 was defending himself after the man fired three shots at police, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Thursday.
Zappala cleared Officer Jared Rothert in the death of Onje Dickinson, 20.
Dickinson fired three shots at Rothert before the officer fired at Dickinson, the body camera footage shows.
Dickinson was one of the suspects in a robbery that left one man dead on Sharon Court, across the street from the home where he hid in the basement and shot at police.
“I think Mr. Zappala made the obvious decision based on the information presented,” said Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton. “There’s no doubt that my officer did perform in the proper manner. He did everything he was trained to do. He followed policy, followed procedure.”
Rothert remains on paid medical leave as he recovers from injuries he suffered responding to the call, Burton said.
Body camera footage captured during the police response was crucial to making the determination, Zappala said.
“I don’t have to explain what happened,” Zappala said.
“The public can see it,” he added. “Clearly, Dickinson opens fire on him and shoots three times before he (Rothert) returns fire.”
The footage was played during a briefing Thursday. It shows Rothert and other police officers going down to the darkened basement of the home. Rothert found Dickinson hiding in a storage area.
Rothert’s gun was equipped with a flashlight that illuminated what he could see as he went down the stairs. He was followed by two Allegheny County police detectives and two Wilkinsburg police officers.
Rothert is lucky to be alive and is recovering from injuries, Zappala said. He broke his knee and sprained his wrist when he stumbled on debris piled in front of the cubby hole where Dickinson was hiding. The fall kept him out of the line of fire when Dickinson emptied his revolver, Zappala said.
Dickinson kept trying to fire after the bullets in the gun were spent until he was shot by Rothert, Zappala said.
Without the footage, making a determination as to whether the shooting was justified would be difficult, Zappala said, because people could form their own conclusions about what may or may not have occurred.
Police were investigating a robbery-turned homicide at 9 p.m. July 14. Joshua A. Makhanda-Lopez, 30, of Mt. Oliver was found dead in the driver’s seat of a Chevrolet Impala parked outside the Sharon Court apartments.
Myzle Ford, 15, of Penn Hills, is facing charges including homicide, robbery and conspiracy charges in that case and is due in court for a preliminary hearing on Sept. 6.
Makhanda-Lopez was lured to Sharon Court under the guise of a drug deal, according to a criminal complaint. The same tactic was used by Dickinson in several similar crimes since May, Zappala said.
They would use somebody else’s social media account and arrange a drug deal, usually for marijuana, Zappala said. When the person got there, they would rob them, Zappala said.
The revolver Dickinson fired at Rothert and the 9mm used to kill Makhanda-Lopez were both stolen, Zappala said.