Four Scranton cops placed on paid leave pending fatal shooting investigation

Four Scranton cops placed on paid leave pending fatal shooting investigation

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Four city police officers have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the fatal police shooting of a knife-wielding woman at her North Scranton home.

State police on Friday identified the woman as Brenda Williams, 52. She was pronounced dead at Community Medical Center about 30 minutes after she was shot by officers in her second-floor apartment at 1501 N. Lincoln Ave.

Ms. Williams was reportedly wielding a knife when she was shot Thursday around 11:10 p.m. after officers responded to her apartment for what Police Chief David Elliott described immediately after as a mental health check.

Additional details about the incident, which apparently unfolded over the course of more than an hour, were difficult to come by Friday as investigators clamped a lid on the release of information.

Both Chief Elliott and Public Safety Director Ray Hayes referred questions about the incident to state police and the Lackawanna County district attorney's office, which are handling the investigation.

Trooper Bill Satkowski, spokesman for Troop R in Dunmore, said the shooting happened after the four officers responded to a disturbance.

He would not comment on how many officers fired their weapons or how many shots were fired, saying it would be premature.

An autopsy performed Friday afternoon at CMC by forensic pathologist Dr. Gary Ross determined Ms. Williams died of multiple gunshot wounds, Coroner Joseph Brennan said. He declined to specify the number of wounds, citing the ongoing investigation.

Chief Elliott said the four officers, who were not identified, will be on paid leave until state police complete their investigation.

"That is just standard procedure," the chief said.

According to neighbors, Ms. Williams had lived for about three months in Apartment 2N at the two-story, five-unit building on the corner at Clearview Street, across the street from Neil Armstrong School.

Neighbors described Ms. Williams as a friendly woman who occasionally bummed cigarettes - she favored Newport 100s - but who also had mental health issues. Police visits to the neighborhood had become frequent in recent days as her behavior became erratic, they said.

Thursday night's incident began at 10:06 p.m. when police responded to 1422 N. Lincoln Ave., just down the street from Ms. Williams' apartment, after a woman's 911 call. A young woman who answered the door at 1422 N. Lincoln on Friday declined to comment.

Another neighbor said it was the second time in less than four hours police had responded to the area.

Earlier Thursday, around 6:30 p.m., Anita Gordis said her sister was outside their home in the 1400 block of Clearview when Ms. Williams approached her and told her to go inside.

"You could tell she wasn't all there," Ms. Gordis said.

police officers arrived and said they would get Ms. Williams to her apartment, Ms. Gordis said. But she noticed the woman was back out on the street when she returned home from church around 9:30.

Amy Thompson, who lives two doors away from the apartment building on North Lincoln, said she had seen Ms. Williams on only two or three occasions. The most recent was Wednesday, when Ms. Williams thanked Ms. Thompson for giving her a cigarette the day before.

Ms. Thompson said she peeked outside around 11 p.m. Thursday after she heard what she thought were firecrackers.

"The next time I looked out, the police were everywhere," she said.

It was the third fatal shooting by police officers in the city in less than seven years.

Erin Dermody, 40, was hit in the leg by an errant bullet and bled to death after police opened fire on a robbery suspect who pointed a toy gun at them in an apartment building on Ash Street in May 2004. The robbery suspect, Edward Nunn, was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Ms. Dermody's death.

In November 2002, police shot murder suspect Byron Allen, 34, when he pointed a gun at an officer after eight-hour standoff at Pub Charles, an exotic dancing club on Penn Avenue. Mr. Allen died of his wounds two weeks later.

In both cases, the district attorney's office ultimately found the shootings were justified.

Mr. Hayes said the Police Department's policy on the use of force mirrors state law, which says officers may shoot a possible assailant when there is a risk of serious bodily harm or death to another individual.

Once state police conclude their investigation of Thursday's shooting, their report will be turned over the district attorney for review, a process that could take days to weeks.

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