Family attorney says Wilkinsburg officer’s story just doesn’t add up; wants him fired and charged with homicide
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Romir Talley’s family showed a unified front on Monday, Aug. 10, standing in solidarity on the steps of the City-County Building, wearing shirts and holding signs that bore his name and face.
The family wants justice for their beloved Romir, the 24-year-old who was shot seven times by Wilkinsburg police officer Robert Gowans in December 2019. Romir Talley died as a result of the shooting.
The family just isn’t buying the story told by Wilkinsburg Police and later, the Allegheny County Police—that Talley, as he was being chased by Wilkinsburg police officers in an alley in the early morning hours of Dec. 22, fired a shot at the officers, prompting Officer Gowans to return fire, striking and killing Talley.
THE FAMILY OF ROMIR TALLEY wants justice for the 24-year-old who was shot and killed by Wilkinsburg Police Officer Robert Gowans in December 2019. (Photo by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)
And although the Allegheny County Police Department has wrapped up its investigation, Paul Jubas, the Talley family attorney, said on Aug. 10 that a witness had recently come forward with information that “sharply contradicts the police officer’s statement.”
Jubas wouldn’t divulge details about the information the witness had, but he told the assembled media that Allegheny County DA Stephen Zappala should charge Officer Gowans with criminal homicide, and let the new evidence play out in court, decided by a jury.
WILKINSBURG POLICE OFFICER ROBERT GOWANS, in this photo from 2016 when he was a member of the Pitcairn Police Department.
Last week, Zappala released a statement about the Romir Talley shooting death investigation, and he didn’t seem too happy with the Wilkinsburg Borough.
“Any loss of human life deserves the most methodical and complete review available. No matter the circumstances surrounding this death, the public deserves a thorough explanation. I find it ironic that federal, state, county and local officials, especially Wilkinsburg officials, will not invest in transparent and objective criteria to assist in evaluating such a significant event,” Zappala said. “Contrast this current review with last year’s event in Penn Hills when an individual tried to murder a police officer, an event captured with remarkable clarity by way of a body worn camera. The lack of this type of evidence has greatly complicated the process that my office has in place to deal with these types of investigations.”
DANA DENSON, LATASHA TALLEY, CAROL BLACKWELL, PATRICIA TALLEY. Latasha is Romir Talley’s mother; Patricia is Romir Talley’s grandmother. (Photo by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)
There is no body camera nor police car dash camera footage of the events that transpired in December between the Wilkinsburg Police and Talley. It’s unclear if and when the borough will acquire body cameras, which are becoming the standard for police departments across the country.
“It’s unacceptable,” Jubas said, Aug. 10. “There’s not a single police force in any city in America that should be operating without body cams and dash cams. This simple fact that the Wilkinsburg Police Department operates without accountability has caused and will continue to cause the people of Wilkinsburg a massive burden in terms of money and in terms of lives that are sacrificed.”
Jubas, during the 15-minute press conference, was the only person who spoke on behalf of the Talley family. However, the family members continuously nodded their heads in agreement as Jubas spoke about the Wilkinsburg Police Department, of which both Jubas and the family believe should be disbanded.
They also nodded in agreement as Jubas called on Officer Gowans to be fired from the Wilkinsburg force. Gowans, a former Pitcairn police officer, had been with the Wilkinsburg Police Department for roughly four months before his deadly encounter with Talley.
Jubas said that Officer Gowans’ statement is inaccurate when he said that Talley fired a shot at the officer first.
“As we know, Officer Gowans responded to an individual with a gun,” Jubas said. “If he was responding to an individual with a gun, then why was Officer Gowans chasing Romir Talley through the back alleys of Wilkinsburg with his taser out? And once he gets within range of Romir, then he puts his taser away, at which point, and we believe this to be a falsification, he said Romir fires a shot at him; at which point, Officer Gowans pulls out his gun and shoots Romir seven times, including once in the head.”
But the new witness, Jubas said, “has contradicted what Officer Gowans said, and there is corroborating evidence for this witness’ statement.”
LATASHA TALLEY, right, the mother of Romir Talley, and Patricia Talley, center, Romir’s grandmother, looks on as attorney Paul Jubas speaks on behalf of the Talley family.
Talley’s family and friends aren’t letting his name go away. Numerous supporters called for justice for Talley during a recent Wilkinsburg Peace March, and a mural featuring Talley was painted on the side of a building in Wilkinsburg, but was recently removed by the owner of the building, who said that he hadn’t given anyone permission to make the mural on his property.
As for Officer Gowans, his name as the officer involved in the shooting death of Talley hadn’t been made public for more than seven months after the December 2019 shooting. Last week, Wilkinsburg Borough Council President Pamela Macklin publicly released the name at a board meeting.
It’s unclear if Zappala will press criminal charges against Officer Gowans. But for Jubas and the family of Romir Talley, the decision should be clear.
“We do firmly believe the DA is in a position where he has to press charges,” Jubas said. “The DA can’t not charge, because that’s just going to incentivize Wilkinsburg to continue down this road of unaccountability.”
TALLEY FAMILY ATTORNEY PAUL JUBAS speaks to reporters at a press conference, Aug. 10.