DA: Beaver County officer placed on leave following Industry man's death

CENTER TWP. – A Beaver County police officer is on administrative leave as state police investigate his role in the recent death of 48-year-old Ken Vinyard.

Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier said in a Thursday news release that the Center Township officer in question was placed on administrative leave shortly after the Nov. 6 incident in Center's Walmart parking lot.

The officer has yet to be publicly identified by investigators or the Center Township Police Department, but will remain on leave until the investigation is complete, Lozier said, noting the investigation is "largely complete."

Attorney Joel Sansone, who is representing Vinyard's family, says that witnesses have identified this officer as John Hawk of the Center Township Police Department. As of Friday evening, no formal charges have been filed under this name.

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Investigators have not yet determined a cause and manner of death for Vinyard, Lozier said. An autopsy has been conducted, but Lozier said lab and toxicology results would not be available for "several weeks" and "do not come back for an average of six to eight weeks."

"This delay must be frustrating to the public, but this is the normal course for forensic lab results," Lozier said. "This is not television. No determination of the cause of death, or the manner of death, may be made until the investigation by the coroner is complete."

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Witnesses say Vinyard was killed by an off-duty police officer while helping a shooting victim in the Walmart Plaza parking lot. Attorney Joel Sansone, the lawyer representing Vinyard's family, said Vinyard was killed after the plainclothes officer forced him to the ground unprompted, causing him to hit his head. He died at a Beaver County hospital shortly after.

Lozier in a statement criticized the conversation surrounding Vinyard's death, saying he wished to "re-state what has happened and what will happen."

"Sadly, in spite of releases by the Center Township Police Department, the state police, and my office, speculation has run rampant," Lozier said.

Officials from the Center Township Police Department have not commented on the incident, but released a statement that read, "The Township of Center and the Center Township Police Department offer our thoughts and prayers to the family of Kenneth Vinyard. This matter is currently being investigated by the Pennsylvania State Police."

Ken Vinyard’s sisters, Debbie Little, left, and Lisa Sylvis, right, demand justice for their brother at a news conference.
Ken Vinyard’s sisters, Debbie Little, left, and Lisa Sylvis, right, demand justice for their brother at a news conference.

In a Nov. 9 release from state police, investigators indicated an off-duty officer was in the area to respond to the shooting and used force on Vinyard. The release states that as a result of this use of force, Vinyard impacted the pavement and lost consciousness. It also states that Vinyard was treated at the scene and rushed to the hospital, where he later died.

Once a determination is made regarding Vinyard's cause of death, Lozier said the case will be handed to an "outside, objective agency" to make the determination on the use of force.

"We ask that the community be patient so that we can do this right," Lozier said. "All of Beaver County wants this process to be done carefully and for justice to be done."

Sansone commented on the update from Lozier on Friday afternoon, critical of the re-framing used on the process.

"I think that's nonsense," Sansone said. "Whether or not Mr. Vinyard died of a coronary episode or a skull fracture is irrelevant to charging this police officer. Either way, he caused whichever of those causes of death is ultimately determined to be what happened."

Sansone says that charges should be filed, no matter which agency is currently taking the lead in the investigation.

"The lab results will not change the the liability for this officer in terms of causing the death, because the ultimate cause of the death without question was officer Hawk," Sansone said. "Any further delays, in terms of a charging decision based upon that conclusion, we think are suspicious."

In addition to the county's results, Vinyard's family has ordered an independent autopsy to be conducted as well.

This is the second recent incident involving Center Township police under investigation. State police also are looking into the circumstances that led to a man apparently shooting himself to death Aug. 12 while being driven in the back of a police cruiser on Brodhead Road near Pleasant Drive.

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This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: DA: Center Twp. officer placed on leave following Industry man's death