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Stabbed Officer Recovering, Two Investigations Pending

February 07, 2002

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Stabbed Officer Recovering, Two Investigations Pending

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by Michael C. Fitzpatrick, Morning Journal

LORAIN -- Police are conducting two separate investigations into the fatal shooting by a policeman of a Lorain man with a history of mental illness after a fellow officer was stabbed.

Ronnie Untalan, 30, was shot and killed by Lorain police officer Joseph Kopronica in a home at 4623 Riverside Drive after Untalan stabbed Kopronica's partner, James Wolford, with a butcher knife.

The two officers were called to the home of Untalan's parents by his mother at 10:24 p.m. to calm him down after he grabbed a 12.5-inch kitchen knife, ripped the phone out of the wall and barricaded himself in the kitchen.

Untalan was treated at the scene by emergency personnel and was taken to Community Health Partners West, where he was pronounced dead by the emergency room physician, according to police.

He was killed by single gunshot to the chest which perforated his heart, according to Lorain County Coroner Dr. Paul Matus.

Wolford, a 10-year veteran, was treated for a stab wound he received to his left rib-area and later released, said police.

Untalan was diagnosed as a schizophrenic 15 years ago, according to his father Romeo, and had been taking medication for his disorder. He had been discharged from the Nord Center on Monday after spending the past weekend with his parents.

"We will do an internal investigation and evaluation to see if standard police policy and procedures were used," said Safety/Service Director Craig Miller.

Miller said he, the city prosecutor and Police Chief Cel Rivera will then review the reports to determine what action --Êif any -- will be taken.

"We will not rush the internal investigation, but we will do it as quickly and efficiently as possible," Miller said.

Miller said the Lorain Police Department should be able to handle the investigation independently.

"I don't see any reason for the county or the state to take the investigation any further if our investigations determine the officer acted properly in using deadly force," said Miller.

Lorain County Prosecutor Gregory White couldn't be reached for comment.

According to Miller, one Lorain police detective will investigate to determine if Kopronica was justified in his use of deadly force. Another detective will investigate Untalan's actions in the incident, to determine if he might have been in the act of committing a felonious assault on a police officer at the time of the shooting.

Kopronica has been put on paid leave and will continue in that status until the investigations are complete, according to Miller.

The four-year veteran with the force was not available for comment yesterday.

According to Lt. Rich Resendez, LifeCare -- a local ambulance service -- had been called to the scene but refused to assist when emergency workers learned that Untalan had a knife. A Lorain police crisis negotiation team was also called to the scene.

According to Resendez, when Wolford and Kopronica arrived at the home, Untalan had already barricaded himself in the kitchen, blocking the doorway with a small table. Wolford, standing in the living room, tried to calm down Untalan, and for a brief moment appeared to be making headway.

However, Untalan lunged at Wolford with the knife and stabbed him. Wolford fell on the floor and Untalan fell over him, landing on a nearby couch. When Untalan tried to get up from the couch Kopronica, also standing in the living room, fired a shot that struck Untalan in the chest.

"As Mr. Untalan got up from the couch, still with the knife in his hand, Officer Kopronica had no other alternative but to discharge his weapon," Resendez said.

According to the report, police removed the knife from Untalan's hand only after he was shot.

"He did in fact have the knife, there was no doubt about it," said Resendez.

Said Romeo Untalan: "It all happened in a split second."

Resendez said Untalan's violent behavior forced Lorain police to use deadly force.

"I believe he had already stabbed Officer Wolford. Officer Wolford was down, knew he had been stabbed, in fact made some statements 'I've been cut, I've been stuck,' or something to that effect," Resendez said.

Resendez characterized Kopronica as a good policeman.

"Officer Kopronica is an excellent officer. (He's had ) no disciplinary problems. I had the availability to supervise him when I was assigned to uniform patrol. (He's a) very good officer, very conscientious officer, very caring officer."

Romeo Untalan, who had tried along with Wolford to talk his son into giving up, said he questioned if police needed to kill his son. He said Kopronica could have shot Ronnie Untalan in the leg.

"Why not shoot to maim him, said Romeo Untalan who moved his family to the United States from the Philippines in 1992, and had moved Ronnie and his wife to Lorain to avoid the violence of New York.

"They told me this is safer than New York," he said with a sad shrug.

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