Trial Ordered in Shooting That Killed 1 Officer, Wounded 2nd

Trial Ordered in Shooting That Killed 1 Officer, Wounded 2nd
Police tape in a file photo. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)
The Associated Press

Pittsburgh — A man has been ordered to stand trial in the shooting death of one police officer and the wounding of another in western Pennsylvania earlier this month.

Johnathan Jermia Morris, 31, of McKeesport is charged in Allegheny County with criminal homicide, attempted homicide and assault of a law enforcement officer and firearms crimes in the Feb. 6 shootings in McKeesport, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Pittsburgh.

Authorities have said that officers were called to a home over a dispute involving a man who police said was having a “mental health crisis.” Police allege they caught up with him after he walked away, and he “suddenly produced a handgun” and shot them. Officer Sean Sluganski, 32, was killed and another officer was wounded.

Authorities said Morris, wounded in the leg by return fire, ran to a parking lot and told two people he had been shot and needed help. Authorities say a witness putting a tourniquet on his leg reported seeing Morris pull a handgun and point it at an approaching officer, and an exchange of gunfire wounded the suspect.

Detective Patrick Kinavey testified Friday during a preliminary hearing that Morris told him three days after the shooting that he didn’t remember shooting at Sluganski and only opened fire after racking his gun wasn’t enough to scare the officers off.

Kinavey said Morris alleged that police tried twice to hit him with a car, and he racked his gun to try to scare them off, and when that didn’t work he fired twice into the vehicle. After being wounded, he said he feared a third officer who was approaching was “out for blood” and fired after the officer reached for his gun, Kinavey said.

The detective said he told Morris that there were more than two spent shell casings at the scene, and Morris said he didn’t remember firing at Sluganski but must have if there was evidence of that.

Morris said he has post-traumatic stress disorder but it is “well managed” through meditation and showering “to wash the PTSD” away. He said he was “having a good day” and wasn’t having any episodes that day, the detective said.

Defense attorney Art Ettinger questioned whether his client was on pain medication during the interview and whether any statements weren’t recorded, and he also sought the names of the people who recorded the events.

A formal arraignment in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court is scheduled for March 21, by which time prosecutors must decide whether they plan to seek the death penalty in the event that the defendant is convicted of first-degree murder.