McKeesport residents call police tactics aggressive, warrantless

Take Action Mon Valley getting complaints following shooting of officer

by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Fawn Walker-Montgomery, co-founder of the community activism group Take Action Mon Valley, will be the first to tell you that she feels the unprovoked shooting of a McKeesport Police officer, of which a 22-year-old Black male is alleged to be the shooter, is flat out wrong. Illegal. Immoral.

But Walker-Montgomery, the outspoken longtime McKeesport resident, called some of the tactics McKeesport Police have used in trying to locate the suspect, “unconstitutional.”

In the moments and hours after the Dec. 20 shooting that occurred outside the McKeesport police station, police entered residents’ homes and stopped nearly every vehicle entering and leaving the McKeesport area, trying to find the alleged suspect, Koby Francis.
McKeesport was on edge.

A source confirmed by the New Pittsburgh Courier said it was the “most police” they’ve ever seen in McKeesport, as nearby agencies joined the manhunt following the afternoon shooting.

“We at Take Action Mon Valley (TAMV) extend our thoughts and prayers to the officer who was shot. TAMV recognizes the humanity in all people including this officer and wish him a full and complete recovery,” read an updated Dec. 26 statement by the organization that Walker-Montgomery leads. “With that said, we also need to voice our complete dissatisfaction with the disregard and disrespect of the residents of McKeesport.

The shooting of one officer does not erase the fourth amendment rights afforded to every single resident of McKeesport. The residents of McKeesport do not deserve this intrusion and over-policing. We will not stand by as McKeesport and other departments disregard the rights of our community members. Just as White people are allowed to be individuals when one of their community members commits a violent crime, we ask for the same grace.”

McKeesport Police Officer Jerry Athans, 32, had taken Francis into custody after Francis was alleged to have violated a Protection From Abuse order. Surveillance video showed Officer Athans’ patrol vehicle in front of the police station, and as he opened the rear passenger door, he was met by gunfire from the alleged suspect, Francis. The officer was struck a total of three times in the neck and shoulder, but was able to return fire as the alleged suspect, Francis, fled, still in handcuffs.

Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said a handgun had been retrieved by the officer from the alleged suspect’s vehicle when he was arrested, but the suspect concealed another handgun on him that was undetected by the arresting officer.

Officer Athans has been released from the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

As of Monday afternoon, Dec. 28, Francis had not been apprehended. There is a $15,000 reward for information leading to Francis’ arrest, and the search now includes multiple states. County officials announced on Dec. 26 that four people had been charged with hindering the apprehension of a fugitive; Jasmyn Henderson-Bracey, 25, Gesiah Grigsby, 21, Daniel Neal, 19, and Justine Kenyatta, 20, all of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

Walker-Montgomery told local TV station WTAE (4) that at least 15 complaints from McKeesport residents were filed to Take Action Mon Valley in the past nine days, accusing police of aggressive, warrantless searches in homes and vehicles.

Brooke Harris, a cousin of Francis, told KDKA-TV’s (2) Andy Sheehan last week that police pushed her mother and uncle away from the home’s front entrance, “and just charged upstairs in her house.”

Attorney Todd Hollis told KDKA that residents “didn’t feel as if they were given the opportunity to say no (to a home or vehicle search). Many times they had guns pointed either at their direction or at them.”

“Throughout the last couple of days many residents and visitors of McKeesport had their rights violated by illegal searches done without warrants within their homes and vehicles,” Take Action Mon Valley’s release read.

“We are aware that there has been some discussion around residents giving ‘consent.’ However, TAMV recognizes the trauma, fear, and intimidation that residents felt. How can one give consent when law enforcement shows up at your door, unannounced, with guns pointed at you and your loved ones?”

In his Dec. 21 news conference, County Superintendent McDonough urged Francis to turn himself in. “This is an armed subject who is obviously dangerous,” he said. “He fled, still armed. There is a danger to the community. We want it to end right here. We want this to be the last harm inflicted by that individual.”

Walker-Montgomery said that her organization demands that Francis is “brought in alive” by police.

She added: “McKeesport, we are here for you and will continue to stand in the gap to not only protect our community, but to do everything possible to bring the so-called suspect in without harm.

Every human life deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, from the officer who was shot, to the community members where the shooting happened, and the suspect who should be apprehended alive to have his day in court.”

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, United States Marshals captured Koby Francis at an apartment complex in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Francis is currently at the North Central Regional Jail and Correctional Facility in Doddridge County, W.Va to await extradition.

FAWN WALKER-MONTGOMERY, co-founder of Take Action Mon Valley, was outraged at the tactics McKeesport Police and other agencies used against local residents following the shooting of McKeesport Officer Jerry Athans on Dec. 20. (Photo by John Altdorfer/PublicSource)

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