LOWER BURRELL, Pa. (AP) — Police officers were wary when they went to an ice cream shop to arrest a man wanted for a shooting earlier this month because he had previously threatened to harm police — and those threats were realized when one of the first officers to arrive was gunned down, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck wouldn't say if police expected Charles Post to surrender at the Dairy Queen in Lower Burrell on Wednesday night.
Peck told The Associated Press on Thursday that police "expected (Post) to be there, they expected to apprehend him at that location."
Whatever police expected, Post, 33, followed through on his earlier threat, shooting and killing Officer Derek Kotecki, 40.
Post then was fatally shot as he ran away from officers and couldn't scale a fence leading to some woods behind the store. An autopsy was scheduled late Thursday to determine whether Post was killed by gunfire from other officers or a self-inflicted gunshot that some officers reported seeing, Peck said.
Peck told the AP that Post first threatened police who searched for him after an Oct. 2 shooting in a motel parking lot in neighboring New Kensington. Peck referenced those threats in praising Kotecki's bravery at the shooting scene earlier Thursday.
"Obviously, Officer Kotecki was a man of a great deal of courage," Peck told reporters. "He was able to face a man who had actually threatened ... the officers of the city of Lower Burrell with physical harm."
Nobody was injured in the earlier shooting in New Kensington, which is next to Lower Burrell along the Allegheny River, about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
Post, described by authorities as a quick-tempered man with a drug habit, fired a gun at his boss, a contractor, during the argument and then fled. Three bullets hit the contractor's truck, and police went looking for Post in some nearby woods overlooking the river.
Searchers called Post on his cellphone during the search, and Peck said Post threatened the officers in a conversation with Lower Burrell Detective Sgt. Scott Cardenas. Peck wouldn't describe the threat, and Cardenas and Lower Burrell police Chief Tracy Lindo did not immediately return calls for comment.
Nor did New Kensington Detective Sgt. Dino DiGiacobbe, who told the Valley News Dispatch shortly after Kotecki's shooting that a Lower Burrell detective had spoken with Post on a cellphone earlier Wednesday and tried to persuade the fugitive to surrender.
DiGiacobbe told the newspaper Post claimed to have a gun with 14 bullets: "Thirteen for the cops and one for me."
Peck said he couldn't confirm that account, though he did say police had been in cellphone contact with Post or someone close to him in the hours before the shooting.
However Wednesday's night's meeting was arranged, Kotecki, Lower Burrell's police dog handler, arrived to find Post sitting in the passenger seat of a white Jeep. Post got out and immediately began shooting, Peck said.
Peck wouldn't say who was driving the vehicle. Peck also said it was "way too early" to determine if that person or anybody else might face charges of helping Post to elude police or in connection with the shooting.
Alicia Heymers, co-owner of New Ken Auto-Motive across the street, told the Valley News Dispatch that she was cleaning in her business when she heard a commotion outside. She saw several officers with their weapons drawn, firing toward the woods behind the Dairy Queen.
"There were a lot of shots, at least six or eight," Heymers said. "I thought (they were shooting at) a bear until I heard them yelling, 'Get down, get down!'"
Kotecki was a married father of two and one of 16 police officers, including Chief Lindo, in Lower Burrell, a city of about 13,000 residents.
Lindo visited with the families of both dead men and expressed his grief to reporters at the scene overnight.
"I know I'm devastated by this," he said. "Derek was a great, great officer."
Gov. Tom Corbett has ordered flags at the Capitol and state buildings in Westmoreland County lowered to half-staff until Kotecki's burial. A funeral Mass is planned for Monday morning at Mount St. Peter Roman Catholic Church in New Kensington.
Grief counselors were available at the Burrell School District, where Kotecki's 13- and 9-year-old sons are students. Kotecki graduated from the district in 1989 and taught police-sponsored anti-drug courses there.
- Lower Burrell