BRUSH VALLEY — A Pennsylvania state police trooper acted properly last week when he fatally shot a Brush Valley man who had pointed a handgun at him, Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said Thursday.
Dougherty said the trooper’s actions were justified under provisions of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, which authorizes the use of deadly force in the prevention of the commission of a crime.
According to state police reports and court documents filed in connection with the incident, state troopers Chad Corbett and Gary Wilson responded late July 7 to the residence of Gary and Mary Wissinger at 5395 Route 56 in Brush Valley, after Mary Wissinger phoned 911 to report a domestic dispute.
As they tried to make contact with the residents, Corbett saw Gary Wissinger through the front door holding an object in his hand, and Wissinger ignored Corbett’s order to drop it. Wissinger then opened the screen door and pointed a handgun at Corbett, who was standing about 10 feet away, investigators wrote in an affidavit filed later at Clymer District Court.
Corbett drew his own weapon and fired six to eight rounds at Wissinger, who retreated from the troopers’ view. Several hours later, officers from the state police Special Emergency Response Team found Wissinger dead in a bedroom.
Wissinger, 55, was a former law enforcement officer. He served from 1994 to 2008 as a deputy at the Indiana County sheriff’s office, and worked in the 1980s as a corrections officer in the Indiana County jail.
A death certificate issued by Indiana County Coroner Michael Baker shows Wissinger was wounded at about 12:01 a.m. July 8 and died at approximately 12:05 a.m. from multiple gunshot wounds. Baker ruled the death a homicide because it was caused by another person.
Because police were involved in the shooting, an outside investigation falls under the jurisdiction of the county district attorney.
Dougherty said he found it unnecessary to refer the investigation of the shooting to the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, because he felt no conflict of interest or compromise when studying all the evidence provided to him.
“The facts are the facts. I knew both people involved, the decedent and the officer,” Dougherty said. “I didn’t feel there was any real conflict. I have no interest in either one other than our jobs.”
In a news release announcing his decision, Dougherty said “Any incident involving the loss of life is a serious one and deserves inquiry into the circumstances to determine whether there has been a violation of the law. The fact that the death is the result of lethal force used by law enforcement officers is an additional basis for evaluation.”
Dougherty referred to a 2003 court opinion on a similar incident.
“The calculus of reasonableness of force must embody the allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving,” the judges wrote.
Dougherty called Wissinger’s death a tragedy.
“But a greater tragedy was averted because of the actions of the officer in question,” he said. “This officer had a duty to protect and defend the life of the civilian in their custody, his life and the life of his fellow officer and he performed his duties properly.”