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RASHAD BYRDSONG, CEO of Community Empowerment Association, calls for more transparency from Pittsburgh Police officials pertaining to the death of Mark Daniels. Daniels was shot by unnamed officers in Homewood, Feb. 11. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

ACLU Pennsylvania legal director Witold “Vic” Walczak walked to the podium and said what everyone behind him was thinking.

“When government officials take a person’s life, the community has a right to demand answers.”

Answers and transparency, the two words of emphasis during a 30-minute press conference held at Community Empowerment Association, Feb. 16, addressing the shooting death of 39-year-old Mark Daniels by Pittsburgh police, in the early hours of Feb. 11, just a few blocks away in Homewood.

ACLU Pennsylvania LEGAL DIRECTOR WITOLD ‘VIC’ WALCZAK

‘When government officials take a person’s life,

the community has a right to demand answers.’

Officials with the city police department turned the investigation over to the county, which, on Feb. 12, reported from the investigation’s findings that Pittsburgh police officers on neighborhood foot patrol detail observed a man wearing a blue jacket and a black-rimmed hat leaving Bett’s Martket and walking south on Brushton Avenue. Next, “The individual observed the officers, and his subsequent behavior drew the officers’ attention to the man,” the report read. “The officers walked south on Newman, parallel to the man last seen walking south on Brushton. (Eight minutes later), initial shots are fired at the officers by a Black male in a dark blue jacket who emerged from behind a building at the corner of Bennett and Newman. One officer returns fire. The officers pursue on foot down Newman and onto Bennett Street. (One minute later) The suspect is relocated on Bennett Street and the same officer again engages the suspect with gunfire. The suspect flees west across Brushton Avenue into an adjacent lot. (Four minutes later) Officer(s) searching for the suspect observe a blood trail and, with the aid of a police canine, follow the blood trail.”

The alleged suspect, Daniels, is later found bleeding, medic units arrive, he’s transported to UPMC Presbyterian, where he was pronounced dead at 2 a.m.

Many at the news conference weren’t buying it.

“Many questions remain unanswered,” Walczak said. “One, the report is that apparently a man just started shooting at a police officer. Huh? Why? That in and of itself just doesn’t make any sense, especially from what we know about this man.”

DENISE JONES, who spoke for the Daniels family at the press conference, called Daniels a “family man, a working man,” and a “good guy.”

Walczak questioned why Daniels’ family was blocked from seeing Daniels’ body. Also, “why are officers’ identities being kept secret? Are these names familiar to us from past incidents? Why are there no body cams? And how much other video has been located? It seems like there’s a lot of cameras there, and everybody’s hearing about all this video. Let’s see those videos. ‘Just trust us’ is not a governing principle when public employees kill a human being. The community is right to demand answers from government officials.”

Allegheny County police superintendent Coleman McDonough said officers recovered a 40-caliber Glock handgun from the scene. Daniels’ family says he didn’t own or carry a gun.

At a meeting held the day before the Feb. 16 press conference between police and community members, police indicated that Daniels took an “aggressive stance.”

JOYCE DANIELS, Mark Daniels’ mother, seated at left, is consoled by, among others, family friend Denise Jones, seated at middle. Seated at right is Sequaha Jeffries, Mark Daniels’ sister. A press conference was held, Feb. 16, as the family demands answers and transparency in the police-involved shooting death of Daniels, Feb. 11, in Homewood. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

“How do you quantify what ‘aggressive stance’ is?” asked CEA president Rashad Byrdsong at the Feb. 16 press conference. Byrdsong then told media members what he heard was said in the meeting the night before: “So, in this ‘aggressive stance,’ he walks down one side of the street, the police walk down another side of the street. Now somewhere in between walking down the street together, the police took another exit and somehow met this young man on the corner, where he exchanged shots at their head.”

Byrdsong said that story “does not go up the smell test. We want to understand what happened, why did you even confront this young man?”

Denise Jones, who spoke for the Daniels family, called Daniels “a really good family man. He was the backbone of his entire family. He went all the way of changing his whole lifestyle…He doesn’t look suspicious. He’s a working man. Actually, he smiles all the time. All the time.”

STATE REP. ED GAINEY said that “transparency has to be number one. And if we get that, it’ll be a step for the City of Pittsburgh.”

Since the Feb. 16 press conference, of which more than 25 community members, elected officials and other supporters stood in unity in front of television cameras, Pittsburgh police nor Allegheny County police have released a statement. Later in the day, however, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner ruled that Daniels was shot by police in the left arm, and that the bullet struck an artery, leading to his death.

“What has to happen is that we work together—one, to be transparent, so that this family can honor their son. And the second one we gotta do…is talk (at a table) about how we become better with police and community,” state Rep. Ed Gainey said at the news conference. “I think a lot of people have made a lot of powerful and good steps; we don’t want this to take, we want this to empower. So, in order to do that, transparency has to be number one. And if we get that, it’ll be a step for the City of Pittsburgh.”

 

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