A western Pennsylvania coroner wants a police officer who shot and killed a man after a car chase to be charged in his death, a recommendation that has generated strong backlash from the local prosecutor who maintains the shooting was justified.
Washington County Coroner Timothy Warco announced Thursday, after an inquest this week into the April 2 fatal shooting of Eduardo Hoover Jr., that Mount Pleasant Township Police Officer Tyler Evans should be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Warco said if the county's district attorney, Jason Walsh, does not pursue charges, state prosecutors should. But officials said Friday that under Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Attorney’s Act, county coroners generally cannot refer criminal investigations to the attorney general’s office.
Evans did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Walsh, who announced in May that Evans' shooting of Hoover was justified, dismissed Warco's stance as “theatrical nonsense” during a news conference Friday.
“The standard for deadly force is a subjective one from the officer’s belief in real-time — firing his weapon not from the comfort and safety of a conference room,” Walsh said. “Officers have families they want to go home to.”
Hoover, 38, was killed following a police chase that began in Mount Pleasant Township and eventually involved the township's police officers, as well as police from nearby Smith Township. Hoover eventually stopped and his car was boxed in by five police vehicles. Evans shot through the back window, striking Hoover twice.
Hoover's family members who attended the inquest told reporters the coroner's findings moved things a step closer to justice.
“I felt it was just unjustified the way he was killed,” Lori Cook, Hoover’s aunt, told KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. “It’s just unreal that 38 years old and he’s gone. Three kids living without their dad is unreal.”
A county court agreed with the request of officers involved in the chase that they did not have to testify as part of the coroner's inquest.
Warco made his recommendation based on his autopsy of Hoover, complaint and incident reports from the police departments and state police, the 911 call log, body cam footage and nearby surveillance footage.
In his report, Warco said that parts of Evans' story did not align with the body camera images. Because Hoover's car was trapped by police cars, he said, it could not be used as a deadly weapon and was not a threat to the officers.
Another officer stood in front of Hoover's vehicle — “in greater danger than Officer Evans,” Warco said in his report — and shot at the car's grille to disable it, rather than at Hoover.
Warco also argued that Evans risked the life of the other officer by shooting from the car's rear toward the front.
Mount Pleasant Township Police Chief Matthew Tharp said in a phone interview Friday that the criminal investigation had cleared Evans and he remains an officer in good standing.
“I and Mount Pleasant support our police officer,” Tharp said. “We have cooperated from the beginning, as has Officer Evans.”
Schultz and Associated Press writer Mark Scolforo reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Shipkowski from Toms River, New Jersey.