Pittsburg Post-Gazette

'Unfortunate incident' subject of sheriff's probe

Friday, April 21, 2000
By Lawrence Walsh, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Pittsburg Post-Gazette

It was the rapid-fire sound of slamming car doors that attracted Eva Gilbert to the front door of a home she shares with her mother in Duquesne Heights.

Minutes later, the sound of a single shot inside the house on Seward Street would draw her neighbors to their front doors.

And, for pulling the trigger, accidentally or not, Allegheny County sheriff's Detective Randy Roberts has been placed on administrative leave with pay until the sheriff's office completes its investigation of what spokesman Mike Mullen called "an unfortunate incident."

When Gilbert, 32, opened the front door about 9 p.m. Tuesday and looked through the screen door, two men on the front porch shined their flashlights on her.

One was wearing an Allegheny County deputy sheriff's uniform; the other was in plainclothes. They said they had a warrant for a man who hadn't been paying his child support.

Gilbert asked to see their identification and the warrant.

She got neither, she said yesterday.

The men said they were looking for Albert Welsh, a former tenant.

Gilbert, whose 18-month-old daughter, Destiny Cyrus, was clinging to her right leg, said Welsh hadn't lived there for some time.

Because "he's not here" is a comment warrant servers often hear, Roberts, the man in plainclothes, asked if he could enter the house.

Gilbert said he could but said she first would have to shut the front door so she could tie up "Joe," a 120-pound Rottweiler, in the kitchen. The dog at the time was stretched out on the floor in the corner of the living room.

"I didn't want Joe coming after anybody," Gilbert said.

What happened next depends on whom you talk to.

Gilbert said Roberts pulled his service weapon, opened the screen door, uttered a four-letter expletive and said something to the effect that he would shoot the dog.

The big dog ran toward the front door barking, Roberts' Glock discharged and the dog, unharmed, ran upstairs.

Gilbert started shouting at Roberts and her terrified daughter started screaming.

"I couldn't believe he fired his gun; it was a totally irresponsible thing to do," Gilbert said. "My daughter could have been hurt. She was standing right next to me when it went off."

No one can find the bullet. Gilbert believes it went through a dropped ceiling, pierced an old plaster ceiling near a wall and fell between the studs. The sheriff's office, which initially thought the bullet struck the floor, found no sign of it there.

Roberts, a former city housing authority police officer hired two years ago, couldn't be reached for comment.

Mullen, an attorney who serves as an executive assistant to Sheriff Pete DeFazio, said a preliminary investigation shows that Roberts acted properly.

"He said the dog attacked him and that he pulled his weapon to defend himself and his fellow officers. He said the dog's nose hit him in the chest, knocked him backwards and his weapon went off. Rottweilers are vicious dogs, and he said this one came running out of nowhere and went right at him.

"Based on what we know right now, it was an unavoidable discharge of a firearm based on an unexpected situation -- an attack by a large dog -- and Detective Roberts reacted the way he was trained to react."

Gilbert said the dog "never got close" to Roberts. "He had his gun drawn before he snatched open the screen door and came into the house. If [Roberts] would have let me tie up the dog, none of this would have happened."

Mullen said Welsh, the man who owes the child support, is still at large.

"We'll find him," he said.