Constables break into wrong house in McKeesport

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It takes a lot to surprise Mark Smith. He was once in the Guinness Book of World Records for having (now) 23 pacemakers installed in his chest since he was two years old and travels to UPMC McKeesport three times a week for kidney dialysis treatments.

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BUSTED—Heart and kidney patient Mark Smith points to where constables damaged his front door and its combination lock that can allow paramedics to reach him in an emergency.

But at midnight on Aug. 25, a group of Allegheny County constables did surprise Smith by breaking down his door and restraining him and his daughter. They had come to serve a warrant for unpaid child support.

 

The real surprise was that Smith wasn’t the man they were looking for. The constables had broken into the wrong house.

“The guy they wanted doesn’t live here,” said Smith.

Now Smith’s daughter, who had planned to live with her father while attending school this year, is now under a psychiatrist’s care and living with her mother, traumatized by the ordeal.

“She thought I was going to have a heart attack and die right there,” he said. “She thought it was going to be the last time she saw me.”

Smith said he and his daughter were watching television in the kitchen of his Jenny Lynn Street home when they heard voices outside. The voices turned to banging at the front and back doors, then on the side of the house. Smith pushed his daughter upstairs and followed, telling her to hide and grabbed his semi-automatic pistol.

“By this time I’d called 9-1-1 and told the operator I thought someone was trying to break in,” he said. “That’s when the door blows open, Bam! I cocked my gun, and I guess they heard it because they didn’t come in.”

The 9-1-1 operator told Smith to wait until police arrived, which he did. She then told him to put his gun down and go outside. He did, and was instantly wrestled to the ground—by the police. They were not the officers dispatched by 9-1-1. They had just happened by, saw the commotion—and listened to the constables.

“Now, I’m the bad guy,” he said. “I have my face pushed into the sidewalk. My daughter is screaming, ‘Don’t hurt my dad.’ The neighbors are screaming. It wasn’t until Lieutenant Tom Green, who I’ve known all my life showed up and said, “Get him off the ground.”

Smith said the constables never identified themselves. His neighbor, Daissie Pitts, said the same.

“I never heard them identify themselves,” she said. “Besides, I said, he couldn’t have done anything—that man’s on oxygen.”

As it turns out, the constables didn’t tell McKeesport police they were in town to serve a warrant either. If they had, they might not have gone to the wrong house. As a result, one of the constables, Eric Vasser, is now charged with criminal mischief for breaking in Smith’s door. Allegheny County Sheriff Bill Mullen is investigating the entire incident.

Smith’s door, outfitted with a special combination lock to allow paramedics, neighbors or family access in case of a medical emergency will cost around $1,000 to repair. Still, he said he is relieved he didn’t have to shoot anyone.

“I mean, I’ve got all these pacemakers. I’m trying to stay alive my whole life,” he said. “So I’m not about trying to take a life.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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