02/27/2002

Police to Review SWAT Procedures After Mistakes in Shootout

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Police said they made several mistakes during a standoff a week ago that left two police officers and a suspect shot.

"The biggest problem was that the communication dissolved between the commanders on the scene," assistant police Chief Nate Harper said. "That led to other mistakes that we recognize and will correct."

Harper said no single person was to blame for the breakdown and no one will be disciplined. He said it was lucky that no additional officers were hurt.

"We could have lost numerous people," he said.

Two Pittsburgh officers, Cmdr. Dom Costa and SWAT Officer Thomas Huerbin, were wounded on Feb. 20 when the suspect, Ceicil Brookins, opened fire just as police thought he was trying to surrender.

Costa was released from the hospital Friday with a .38-caliber slug still lodged near his neck. Huerbin was protected by his bulletproof jacket. Brookins, 46, was shot five times.

Cmdr. RaShall Brackney-Griffin said the SWAT team she leads should have been in contact with Costa in the critical moments before Brookins attempted to surrender following the standoff on his roof.

"Statistically, if there's going to be injury or death, it's going to be when the incident begins or during the surrender," said Sgt. John Fisher. He is the only city officer who has completed a two-week FBI tactical negotiations training program.

Costa, a trained negotiator and former SWAT commander, was one of two officers who answered the call that a negotiator was needed.

Costa ordered the SWAT team to leave the third floor before Brookins came inside, Harper said. Brackney-Griffin said that's not the usual procedure for a surrender.

Harper said Brookins should have been ordered to remove some clothing to check for a hidden weapon before he was allowed into the house. Brookins had a gun tucked in the back of his pants, police said. Police found more guns in the house.

As a result of the missteps, the department will use a new system for calling negotiators and coordinating responses, police said. Harper said he wants to organize the city's 40 trained negotiators into teams. Dispatchers would have a list of who is working and would then send teams to a scene.

Meanwhile, Brookins' attorney said moving his client from the hospital to the Allegheny County Jail the day after the shooting was too soon.

Tuesday, a judge told Ecker that he could choose a doctor to determine whether Brookins is getting needed care.

Prosecutors said Brookins is receiving adequate care by jail doctors.

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