Transparency issues abound in Wilkinsburg killing

By Duke Staff

On the afternoon of Jan. 31, Bruce Kelley Jr. and a Port Authority police dog both lost their lives.

The response to each of those events has been alarming and disheartening, as has the lack of proper transparency from the police departments involved with the case.

The 37-year-old Kelley and his father were approached by two Port Authority police officers that afternoon as they were drinking in a gazebo near the Hamnett station in Wilkinsburg. A fracas broke out after the officers engaged the men, and both Kelley, 4-inch pocket knife in hand, and his father fled the scene.

The officers called for backup. After locating the suspects, they followed them for a few minutes while telling Kelley to drop the knife. After failed attempts at pepper spraying and tasing Kelley, an officer released his police dog, Aren. The dog latched on to Kelley’s left arm, and in response, he stabbed the dog in the snout, a wound that would eventually prove fatal.

At that point Port Authority Officer Brian O’Malley fired 10 shots at Kelley, and another officer fired two. Kelley died at the scene. Aren died at the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center, soon to be surrounded by dozens of officers.

The contrast between the two is stark and insulting to the man’s family. Why was this dog, K-9 officer or not, given the respect of being rushed to a hospital and a funeral of grandeur when the man died in the street? Yes, Aren was a member of the police family. Yes, proper mourning is expected.

But when that grieving so drastically overshadows the death of a man, something is wrong. Criminal or not, Kelley didn’t deserve to be treated lesser than a dog just as much as he didn’t deserve to be shot twelve times for belligerent public drunkenness.

Even worse, the ensuing days saw a startling lack of transparency from the departments responsible for Kelley’s death. Initial reports claimed that one of the two Port Authority officers involved in the initial skirmish received cuts on one of his hands from Kelley’s alleged 14-inch-long knife.

Neither of those facts are true. It took five days for police to confirm that the officer did not have any lacerations from Kelley’s blade. The officer was, instead, taken to the hospital for a sprained shoulder or hand injury.

Furthermore, it took almost as long to confirm the actual size of the blade. It was not the 14-inch-long pseudo-machete as initially said but a 4-inch folding pocket knife.

Details like these are vitally important to get right in the days following an incident like this, and the police failed in that respect.

As we’ve seen time and again, situations like this are always complicated, muddled by opposing sides and hazy information. Just for once, it would be nice to see a case handled well.

Unfortunately for Bruce Kelley Jr., his was not that case.