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Dauphin County DA clears Harrisburg police in fatal shooting of Earl Pinckney

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HARRISBURG, Pa. – Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico announced Monday that he has completed his review of the fatal shooting of Earl “Shaleek” Pinckney by Harrisburg Police Officer Tony Elliott on August 7, in the 2300 block of Green Street. After an investigation by his office’s Criminal Investigation Division, Marsico determined that no charge of criminal homicide will be filed against the officer.

The investigation revealed that on the afternoon of August 7, Shaleek engaged in an argument with his mother, Kim Thomas, over diapers for his newborn daughter, who was staying the weekend with him on Green Street. Shaleek became angry and started a fist fight with two of his sisters outside of the residence. His mother’s fiancé, Fred Porter, became involved in a physical altercation with Shaleek. At that time, Shaleek pulled a knife out of his pocket and left the area. Neighbors also witnessed this incident. Many assumed the police were called but no record of a call was received.

Later that evening, Shaleek returned and went to an upstairs bedroom where he began breaking items, including a lamp which he threw against the wall. Again, he got into a physical altercation with his sister. He stated that he was not going back to jail. His cousin tried to break up the fight and  she ended up rolling on the floor with him. Shaleek’s sister saw a knife in his hand and he told his sister to get out or he would kill their mother.

Kim Thomas told two different CID detectives that he took out a knife in the bedroom. The first statement was a brief statement and the second was a recorded statement. Additionally, two separate HPD officers heard Thomas state that the knife should be in the bedroom. In subsequent statements, Thomas indicated there was no knife in the bedroom.

A young girl called 911 and told dispatchers that her uncle was trying to hurt her grandmother. Dispatchers then spoke with Shaleek’s sister who told them that her brother had busted through the door, attacked the family, and has a knife in his hand and is locked in a room with his mother.

Harrisburg police responded to the scene knowing that Shaleek was in possession of a knife and had threatened to kill his mother. Four separate officers were told by family members that Shaleek had a knife and was with his mother in an upstairs bedroom. The officers heard a woman yelling “drop the knife.” The officers got the family members out of the upstairs.

Three officers proceeded up the stairway of the home and entered the bedroom. The officers announced that they were Harrisburg police. The officers demanded that Shaleek drop the knife, but he did not. All of them saw that Shaleek had one arm around his mother and his other arm/hand holding a knife at her throat. The lead officer had both his taser and duty weapon out. Because he could not get a shot with the taser, he put it away and trained his gun on Shaleek, but he could not get a clear shot at him. Officer Elliott was able to get a clear shot at him when he lowered the knife slightly to her chest. Officer Elliott believed Kim Thomas’ life was in danger at the time he fired the one shot. The cause of Pinckney’s death was a gunshot wound to the chest. Blood tests on the deceased noted the presence of anti-depressant drugs and THC.

In reviewing a case like this, the role of the DA is to determine whether criminal charges, i.e. criminal homicide, can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt against the officer. Chapter 5 of the Crimes Code governs when the use of deadly force is lawful.  That law recognizes the sanctity of human life and restricts the use of deadly force to those times when a police officer or private citizen reasonably believes it is necessary to protect human life.  The facts known to Officer Elliott made the use of deadly force necessary to protect the life of Kim Thomas.

An officer is justified in using deadly force to protect another if the officer reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the other person. Here, the officer’s actions were justified under the circumstances and the law and no criminal charge could be proven.

Marsico noted this tragedy again involved the intersection of the criminal justice system and the mental health system. Mr. Pinckney had multiple contacts with police and the juvenile and adult justice systems.

  • In January 2008, Swatara police were called following an argument between Shaleek and his mother. Shaleek was 11 years old. No charges were filed.
  • In March 2008, Swatara police were again called for an argument between Shaleek and his mother.
  • In April 2008, Swatara police were called after Shaleek had threatened his brother and sisters with steak knives. He was committed under the Mental Health Procedures Act.
  • In August 2010, police were called when he was involved in a fight with his sister.
  • In September 2010, he was charged with simple assault and terroristic threats when Mr. Pinckney brandished a knife and threatened to kill his mother. The case was handled in juvenile court.
  • In October 2011, Ms. Thomas told police Shaleek struck her. Simple assault charges were filed by Susquehanna Twp. Police and later withdrawn in the juvenile court system.
  • In June 2012, police were called following an argument. No charges were filed.
  • In May 2013, police were called following an argument. No charges were filed.
  • In October 2013, police were called following a physical altercation between Shaleek and  his mother.
  • In December 2013, police were called and initially told Shaleek threatened his mother with a gun, but she later indicated there was no gun. No charges were filed.
  • In February 2015, Shaleek was charged with Theft by Unlawful Taking for taking his mother’s wallet and damaging her home.
  • In July 2015, police were called after Shaleek would not let his mother leave and threatened her. He pleaded guilty to a Disorderly Conduct charge in December 2015 and was placed on probation.
  • In August  2015, Ms. Thomas reported he was breaking her car’s windows. He plead guilty to the charge in May of this year and was placed on probation.
  • In December 2015, he was arrested for threatening his mother with a knife. His mother was granted an emergency  Protection from Abuse Order but did not appear at a hearing for a permanent order. Pinckney pleaded guilty to simple assault by physical menace and was sentenced to 2 years of probation in May of 2016.

Both his mother and his probation officer reported Mr. Pinckney suffered from mental health issues and took prescription drugs for his diagnosis. Marsico noted, “we must do a better job of helping mothers like Kim Thomas when they have repeated contacts with police.”

Media reports indicated that Mr. Pinckney may have been shot by an officer outside of the home after an air conditioner in the bedroom window had been removed. Detectives spent time and resources to determine whether this occurred. There is no physical evidence to support this theory. Pictures taken shortly after the shooting show the air conditioner in the window. Additionally, family members told investigators that the air conditioner was in the window when they returned to the room after police were finished investigating. Further, sometime after the shooting, family members told detectives they had found blood on a fence that must have belonged to the officer who shot from outside through the window. Testing of that blood revealed it was not human, but was animal blood. Also, neighbors indicated no officer was in a location to shoot from outside the house. Finally, the casing was found in the bedroom and ballistics test matched the casing to the weapon belonging to the Harrisburg officer..

Marsico thanked the family’s attorney, James Ellison, for facilitating interviews with family members. Marsico met with Shaleek’s family prior to releasing these findings. “Our hearts go out to Shaleek’s loved ones,” Marsico said. “However, the officer’s actions were legally justified and no criminal charges will be filed.”

Late this afternoon Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse issued a statement in response to the findings of Marsico’s investigation.

“District Attorney Ed Marsico informed me today his office has concluded its independent investigation of the shooting of Earl Shaleek Pinkney,” said Mayor Papenfuse.  “In the interest of transparency and to encourage public trust in the conclusions, I will review the files to confirm that the investigation was done fairly.”