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Advocates urge Port Authority to change K-9 practices in wake of deaths |

Advocates urge Port Authority to change K-9 practices in wake of deaths

Megan Guza | Trib Total Media
A Port Authority of Allegheny County board meeting at their Downtown headquarters on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, drew a large audience.

Port Authority of Allegheny County board chairman Robert Hurley said Friday that agency officials “are all very sorry” about the shooting death of Bruce Kelley Jr. after public transit and police accountability advocates voiced concerns about the use of a K-9 officer in the fatal encounter last month.

“Using police dogs to attack people — given the history of the practice, particularly against African-Americans, and the unpredictability of the outcomes — should never be an option for police,” said Helen Gerhardt, a spokeswoman for Pittsburghers for Public Transit.

Aren, a 5-year-old Port Authority police K-9, was stabbed to death Jan. 31 during a confrontation between police and Kelley Jr., who brandished a 4-inch knife. Kelley Jr. was shot at 12 times by two officers, which included 10 shots from Aren’s handler, Sgt. Brian O’Malley.

“It’s illogical to expect a person not to defend oneself when being mauled by a dog,” Gerhardt said. She said the practice of using K-9s to take down suspects is inhumane to both the dog and the human.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. is investigating the shooting.

Zappala’s spokesman Mike Manko said there is no new update on the progress of the investigation.

Port Authority CEO Ellen McLean said neither authority officials nor the board will comment on the shooting until Zappala finishes his investigation.

But chairman Hurley did break the board’s silence following public comment, acknowledging that a human life was lost.

“Mr. Kelley lost his life, and for that we are all very sorry,” he said.

He reiterated McLean’s comments, saying the board will reserve any other comment and action until the investigation is complete.

“Nothing is on the table, and nothing is off the table,” he said.

Brandi Fisher, president of the Alliance for Police Accountability, said she would like to see Port Authority change its policy so that K-9s are used for tracking and detection only and not apprehension.

She said officers should receive training on understanding implicit biases, as well as how to identify and handle individuals with mental illness.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or [email protected].

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