A massive search for a fugitive shown on security video shooting a Pennsylvania police officer three times while in handcuffs stretched into its second day on Monday as authorities warned that the runaway suspect is a danger to the community.
As police fanned out across suburban Pittsburgh in search of Koby Lee Francis, 22, authorities came under scrutiny over how the suspect had the gun he used in the shooting despite being arrested, searched and placed in the back of a police SUV patrol vehicle.
Investigators also struggled to explain how Francis, who was handcuffed from behind when he was taken into custody on suspicion of violating a protective order, managed to get his cuffed hands in front of him and ambush the officer.
“We can only speculate,” Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman J. McDonough said during a news conference Monday when asked if he suspects the 6-foot-2-inch Francis contorted his body to enable him to get his cuffed hands in front of him while being driven to a police station. “He’s not the first person to do that. It happens.”
McDonough identified the wounded police officer as Gerasimos “Jerry” Athans, 32, a four-year veteran of the McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Police Department. Athans was in stable condition Monday at UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh, where he is being treated for gunshot wounds to his neck and shoulder, officials said.
“We’re very happy that he’s going to be able to spend Christmas with his family rather than what could have been a very tragic event,” McDonough said.
During the news conference, McDonough played security video of the shooting that occurred just after 4 p.m. Sunday outside the McKeesport Police Department.
The footage shows Athans exiting the patrol vehicle and walking around to the rear passenger-side door. As soon as he opened the door, gunshots rang out, and Athans doubled over as he staggered to the front of the vehicle for cover. Francis is seen emerging from the vehicle and firing at least one more shot at Athans, who drew his gun and returned fire.
McDonough said Athans emptied his gun, but there was no evidence that Francis was hit as he ran from the scene.
Following the exchange of gunfire, Athans radioed a police dispatcher that he had been shot and that the armed suspect was on the run and still in handcuffs, McDonough said.
“We can easily see from the video, this is an armed subject who is obviously dangerous, he fled still armed,” McDonough said. “There is a danger to the community. We want it to end right here. We want this to be the last harm inflicted by that individual.”
He implored anyone with information on Francis’s whereabouts to contact the police immediately.
“We strongly encourage him to turn himself in, so he can face justice,” McDonough said, adding that Francis faces charges of criminal attempted homicide, escape, aggravated assault and violation of the Uniform Firearms Act.
McDonough said that earlier on Sunday, Francis went to the McKeesport Police Department to be served with a protective order. He alleged that Francis left the police department angry and went to pick up his infant son, in violation of the protective order.
Police were called to the Harrison Village public housing complex in McKeesport at about 3:55 p.m. Sunday after Francis was accused of going there, McDonough said. By the time officers arrived, Francis was gone.
A short time later, police responded to another call alleging Francis violated the protective order again at a different public housing complex also in McKeesport, McDonough said.
He said that when Athans and another officer arrived, they found Francis at the location sitting in his parked car and took him into custody.
“He was searched, obviously,” McDonough said of Francis.
He said that while officers seized a gun from Francis’s car, they failed to find the firearm the suspect had hidden on him.
McDonough said investigators reviewed surveillance video and confirmed Francis was placed in the back of Athans’s patrol vehicle with his hands cuffed behind him.
Asked how the officers missed finding the weapon on Francis, McDonough said the answer to that question will be up to an internal investigation by the McKeesport police administration.
“That’s not our priority here,” McDonough said. “Our priority is bringing Mr. Francis to justice.”