By JOE MANDAK
GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) – A police officer fatally shot while responding to a domestic dispute was “100 percent” justified in shooting at the slaying suspect, a state police spokesman said Monday.
Ray Shetler, 31, of New Florence, was arraigned Monday on one count of criminal homicide in the Saturday night shooting of St. Clair Township Officer Lloyd Reed, 54.
Shetler’s girlfriend called 911 around 9 p.m. to report that Shetler had been drinking, bloodied her nose and threatened to kill himself and her. She also said he caused the rural western Pennsylvania home they shared to begin filling with smoke from a wood-burning stove.
Most importantly, said state police Trooper Stephen Limani, she also told a dispatcher that Shetler had a rifle.
After the woman’s call, a state trooper was dispatched to Shetler’s home in New Florence, a tiny borough about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. As a dispatcher relayed details of what appeared to be an escalating situation, the trooper requested assistance, which brought Reed from St. Clair and an officer from Seward borough to the home, Limani said.
Reed arrived first and confronted Shetler as he left the home, rifle in hand, according to an account Shetler’s girlfriend gave police. The woman told police Reed shot at Shetler before her boyfriend returned fire, mortally wounding the officer in the left side of his torso, which was not protected by a bulletproof vest.
Seward Officer Justin Bickert also fired toward Shetland before he ran off, but Bickert couldn’t clearly see Shetland due to trees and darkness.
State police arrested Shelter without incident about six hours later. Police on Monday were still searching for Shetland’s .270-caliber rifle, which the suspect said he lost while swimming across a river to avoid police.
Shetler had a bullet wound to the front of his shoulder and was treated at a hospital. He was jailed Monday and faces a preliminary hearing Dec. 11. Online court records don’t list a defense attorney for him.
Reed, a police officer for 25 years, had worked part-time in New Florence for five years. He had spent 20 years as an officer in Seven Spring borough before that department disbanded. He leaves behind his wife of 15 years, Rosemarie Ponziani Reed. His funeral was set for 11 a.m. Friday at an arena in Johnstown.
Limani said Reed fired six shots from his .40-caliber service pistol and that Bickert fired once. Police don’t know which shot wounded Shetler because doctors opted to let the bullet remain in his shoulder, Limani said.
Shetler told police he fired only because someone shot at him first, and that he didn’t know Reed was an officer, investigators wrote in a criminal complaint.
Shetler’s girlfriend didn’t respond to a message left on her home phone Monday, but Limani dismissed comments she made to reporters over the weekend that Reed fired at Shetler as he ran away, and was only then shot by Shetler.
Limani said police don’t know whether Shetler aimed the gun at the officer. He also didn’t dispute the girlfriend’s assertion that Reed fired first, but he said there’s no way to independently prove that.
Shetler’s girlfriend told police she saw him walk toward Reed and argue with the officer, who shouted repeatedly, “Ray, put down the gun, put down the gun,” Limani said.
“He had the firearm. He did not put it down,” Limani said. “He was aggressive. He refused to put it down, and he advanced on the officer.”
Whether or not Shetler aimed the gun at Reed, “I would say 100 percent, definitively, that’s an opportunity for (Reed) to use deadly force,” Limani said.
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said it’s too early to determine whether he’ll pursue the death penalty. Killing a law enforcement officer is an aggravating circumstance that would support execution if Shetler were convicted of first-degree murder, the most serious charge he faces under the umbrella homicide count.
Whatever happened, Limani said, Shetler knew his girlfriend had called police before grabbing the rifle to leave.
“He said, ‘Expletive the police,’ to her,” Limani said.
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