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Officer allegedly draws weapon on 7-year-old girl

Deborah M. Todd / Pittsburgh Courier | September 21 2006

What was supposed to be a typical drive through a peaceful Shadyside neighborhood, turned into a standoff with a police officer threatening the life of a 7-year old girl, according one local mother.

Pamela Lawton of the Hill District said on Aug. 26, she was on her way to Homewood for a Pee Wee League football game with her two daughters, 7-year old Joshalyn, 8-year old Jasmine, and two other children ages 2 and 3. She said she was driving her green, 1998 Ford Windstar and was approaching the intersection at Kentucky Street and Negley Avenue when a Pittsburgh Police cruiser signaled for her to pull over.

“He was flying up behind me and I stopped immediately because I wanted to stay in view,” said Lawton. “I felt like there was something wrong—why would he fly up behind me like that? Plus, I had my kids in the car so it kind of scared me.”

What Lawton said happened next was beyond anything her initial fears predicted.

“I said, ‘What's the problem, officer?' and he said ‘Get your hands up,'” wrote Lawton in a prepared statement. “He repeated, pulled out his gun and pointed into the passenger side of the window where my youngest daughter was trying to get her seatbelt off. So, I put my hands up.”

According to Lawton, she and her children spent the next 20 to 30 minutes trying to convince Officer Eric Tatusko to put his weapon down or to at least go to the driver's side to address the problem with the only adult in the car.

“The children were in the car screaming and crying,” she wrote. “My hands were still in the air and I was screaming ‘Help, someone help!' over and over again.”

Florence Williams, a resident at the Kitley House Senior Center on Kentucky Street, said she didn't see everything that happened that morning, but she knows she heard the cries for help.

“I happened to hear somebody screaming and I came to my porch,” Williams said. “I don't know what the cop was doing because he was on the other side, but she had her arms out the door and she was hollering ‘Please, somebody help me.'”

During this time, Lawton says Tatusko refused to take her identification, never told her why she was stopped and never left the passenger side of the vehicle. She said at one point the officer got so angry he cocked his gun and said if Joshalyn moved again he would “blow her brains out.”

“He clicked the thing back and then he turned off his radio,” said Jasmine. “I was like ‘He's going to kill us.'”

“Me and the babies were crying and (Jasmine) jumped over me for my life, and I thank my sister for doing that,” said Joshalyn.

A witness at the scene said Tatusko kept his gun drawn at the passenger side window until more officers came to the scene and told him to drop the weapon.

“When I turned the corner, there were 10 police cars and (Lawton) was in the middle,” said Rick Hill, an employee of Shadyside Nursing Rehab on Kentucky Avenue. “I heard her hollering for help and she had her hands out the window and everything. The cop already had his gun, not on her, but on the other side. When I looked in there she had kids. One cop said ‘If the kids move again, we will shoot.'”

Hill, who left a frantic voice message on Lawton's sister's phone during the standoff, said that once more officers arrived, they searched the vehicle for a weapon and found nothing. He also said Tatusko, who was not available for comment, was told to get into another vehicle and leave the scene.

Since that day, Lawton says she has struggled to come to terms with what happened to her family. The Shuman Center employee and former nurse, who changed careers to become part of the law enforcement community, said she doesn't understand why she was treated as she was before, during and after the standoff. From the time she was pulled over to when she said police Lt. Cindy Windsor told her to shut up or ‘You're going to jail and your kids are going to CYF,' Lawton believes she and her children were treated worse than most criminals.

Lt. Windsor declined to comment other than to say that she was off of work that day. Tammy Ewin, spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Police, also declined to comment because of the case's status with the CPRB.

As it was, Lawton ended up being cited for an insurance violation. She was fined and her car was towed, but according to her, the ultimate cost has already been paid with her daughters' security and peace of mind.

“Your inspection can be wrong, your license can be wrong, there's no reason for (police) to come to the passenger side and pull a gun out and aim it through the window of a 7-year old,” she said.

“I can't even sleep at night, I just think about it every day,” said Joshalyn. “They got it deep in my mind. “He was talking to me the whole time.”

America's original domestic terrorist's are still on the job

Paradise Gray | September 21, 2006

I watched Jonny Gammage killed in Pittsburgh by over-zealous racist police officers.

I watched the guiltiest of the officers who lynched him, "Officer John Vojtas," get a promotion and a raise.

I have watched Jerry Jackson shot and killed in a hail of 51 bullets in Armstrong tunnel by Pittsburgh police officers. I watched them justify it with lies cover-ups and red tape. I watched officers on the scene change their story and tell the truth only to have their boss say that he would not review the case.

I have watched the FBI ransack a local Mosque on their day of prayer.

I have watched armored vehicles roll through Homewood.

There are many other horror stories involving Pittsburgh and surrounding areas regarding racist police officers; some we have heard, but most we have not. Like what happened in a recent case where a Braddock man was killed by the police?

The local news is choosing not to cover many of these incidents, which seem to be occurring all too often. I have watched the people do nothing!

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of watching from the sidelines. I will not sit back and watch the police or anyone else put guns in 7 and 8 year old little girl's faces and threaten to blow their heads off! We demand justice. These officers may be above the law that we pay them to uphold, but they are still under God. They still have to answer for it when they step over the line. And the actions of Officer Eric Tatusko were way over the line on August 26, 2006.

If we don't stand up and do something about the conditions in our community how can we even look our women in the eye? Look at what we are allowing to happen to our women and children; we should be ashamed of ourselves. I am not asking that anyone do anything stupid, I'm just suggesting that y'all do what men do when their children are at risk. I'm not asking y'all to blow up, just show up. We must organize! If you think things are bad right now in America for our people you ain't seen nothing yet!

In the name of "Homeland Security" they are stepping all over "The Constitution" and the Bill Of Rights" daily. Passing mind boggling new laws, bypassing the Geneva convention and FEMA has built over 600 new concentration camps in America, who do you think that they are gonna fill them up with? I just read in the paper the other day that House Speaker John M. Perzel is proposing to spend 4 Hundred and Fifty Million Dollars to hire 10,000 new police officers in Pennsylvania . 1,000 new officers for Allegany County alone. Does that make you feel any safer? The local jails are already over crowded and under staffed. Where are they gonna put people arrested by 10,000 new cops? Many of you may think ignorance is bliss, but unlike Cipher (the snitch from The Matrix) reality is gonna come to you no matter which pill you take… Blue, Red, Ecstasy, Viagra or Eminem's Purple pills.

I am angry right now. I don't think y'all feel me, I am mad as hell! But, I am not as angry at the police officer as I am at myself and everyone around me. We have been attempting to organize and motivate others around us, but we are not doing as good a job of putting good people together to combat problems in our communities, as we should. I hate reacting to every bad thing that happens to our people. I long for a time when we have our shit together so well that we stop this from happening before it starts. A time that the police department would better screen their officers for drug addiction, steroids, greed, corruption, racism and such things because they would fear the repercussions of letting these monsters loose in our communities. As it is, they have no reason to fear us. They have physically kicked our asses for over 400 years and we still haven't figured it out yet! We are still trying to make them better, instead of doing for ourselves, patronizing our own businesses and building our own schools. Instead we send our children to be educated by the enemy, and when the enemy educates you, you become like him. You become your own worst enemy.

Why am I using such a harsh word as "enemy"? The Government is having a hard time painting us as domestic terrorists, so they have come up with a new term: "Enemy Combatant" and passed a new law: "The Enemy Combatant Law" that will allow them to bypass the Constitution and treat American citizens as they have the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay. They are now able to arrest Americans without proper warrants, without reading them their rights, without giving them a phone call, without giving them access to a lawyer. They can hold you indefinitely without charging you with a crime or even admitting that they have you in custody. Do you understand yet?

Besides, anyone who shoves a gun in the face of a 7 year old child is definitely not my friend. One thing I know is that Officer Eric Tatusko surely isn't Officer friendly! He should be suspended without pay immediately pending an investigation into this incident and a peek into his past. Then upon finding him guilty, he should be fired without a pension and arrested for brandishing a firearm, making terroristic threats and disturbing the peace. We should not reward him with a promotion and a raise.

If you are in the Pittsburgh area come out tomorrow!

There is a Civilian Police Review Board meeting:

Monday - September 18th, 2006 - 6:00 PM
City Council Chambers
510 City-County Building
414 Grant St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Call: 412-765-8023 to reserve 3 minutes of speaking time.

Everyone who is interested in justice should show up at this meeting, but it should be of particular interest to Black men. It is time for us to be responsible for our families and community. So many of us should show up that they should have standing room only and a large crowd outside that can't fit in. All sinners and saints alike should be at this meeting showing our love and commitment for the safety of our women and children.


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