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Michael Ellerbe (Courier File Photo)

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Pennsylvania has paid $650,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed her son was wrongly killed by a state trooper, who previously was the subject of a $12.5 million settlement for fatally shooting an unarmed 12-year-old boy in the back.

Settlement terms were reported Friday by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (http://bit.ly/1u9V5iq ), based on documents obtained in a Right-to-Know request from the state attorney general’s office.

Previous federal court documents show the settlement was reached in October and subject to a confidentiality agreement that prevents the parties from talking about it. But any payments made by the government must be disclosed under the state’s Right-to-Know law.

The documents show the state paid $650,000 to settle its share of the lawsuit stemming from the death of Nicholas Haniotakis. The city of Pittsburgh, which also had an officer who fired at Haniotakis, paid $25,000.

The lawsuit, filed by Diane Zion more than five years ago, contends Trooper Samuel Nassan III and a Pittsburgh officer, Sgt. Terrence Donnelly, wrongly fired at Haniotakis – Zion’s son – in the early morning hours of March 15, 2009, as the city’s bars were emptying following St. Patrick’s festivities.

The officers claimed they fired only after the drunken, drugged 33-year-old – who had an extensive criminal record that included other instances of escaping from or attacking police – tried to hit officers with his vehicle during a brief chase.

The lawsuit was filed before toxicology tests from an autopsy revealed Haniotakis was drunk and had Xanax, morphine and cocaine metabolites in his system.

Although both officers fired a total of four shots at Haniotakis, Nassan became the focus of the lawsuit. An autopsy and ballistics showed Nassan fired the fatal shot. Also, Zion’s attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, referenced in the lawsuit the earlier multimillion-dollar settlement involving Nassan.

Fieger was the attorney in the previous lawsuit, as well, which led a federal court jury in March 2008 to determine Nassan wrongly killed 12-year-old Michael Ellerbe, of Uniontown, on Christmas Eve 2002.

Nassan and his partner, Cpl. Juan Curry, testified they chased Ellerbe when they saw the boy jump out of a stolen SUV that afternoon. Internal state police investigators concluded Nassan shot Ellerbe because the trooper believed Ellerbe had shot at Curry. Nassan testified that he learned later that Curry got tangled climbing over a chain-link fence and that Curry’s gun fired when it snagged on a link. Ellerbe was unarmed.

The jury awarded more than $28 million to Ellerbe’s father. The sum was reduced when state police agreed to drop their appeals and pay $12.5 million a few months later. At the time, the largest previous settlement paid in a state police wrongful shooting case was $275,000.


Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com

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