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County police superintendent: ‘We strongly encourage him to turn himself in’
McKeesport police Officer Jerry Athans, 32, prepares to return fire Sunday after being shot three times by a suspect identified as Koby Lee Francis, 22. Francis is charged by Allegheny County police with attempted homicide. (Submitted photo via Allegheny County police)
Holiday decorations in Kennedy Park on Lysle Boulevard spell out the words, “PEACE ON EARTH.”
The scene captured by surveillance cameras on Sunday afternoon along Fourth Avenue — just behind those words — is anything but peaceful.
Footage released by Allegheny County police on Monday shows a suspect identified as Koby Lee Francis, 22, of McKeesport, firing several shots at city police Officer Gerasimos “Jerry” Athans, 32, from the back seat of a McKeesport police cruiser.
Athans takes cover at the front of the car, turns, aims and returns fire as Francis — still handcuffed from his arrest a few minutes earlier — flees on foot. The entire sequence plays out in about 20 seconds.
“We strongly urge members of the community who can see that this was an egregious violation to cooperate with our investigation and provide us with his whereabouts,” said county police Superintendent Coleman McDonough at a press conference Monday.
Emergency personnel said Athans, a four-year veteran of the force, was struck three times, in the neck and torso. He was wearing a ballistic vest.
Athans was flown to UPMC Presbyterian hospital, Oakland, where sources said he was discharged Monday.
County police are leading the investigation.
“Our hearts go out to Patrolman Athans’ family and his fellow officers,” McDonough said Monday. “And most of all, 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.”
A search is underway for Francis, who is charged by county police with attempted homicide, aggravated assault, escape, flight to avoid apprehension, and violating the uniform firearms act.
McDonough urged Francis to surrender: “We strongly encourage him to turn himself in.”
The shooting happened after Francis was arrested Sunday for violating a protection from abuse, or PFA, order.
Court records indicate Francis was on probation after pleading guilty in June 2019 to two counts of possession of controlled substances with intent to deliver and one count of criminal conspiracy. Police said he is considered armed and dangerous and anyone spotting him should call 9-1-1.
On Sunday night, local, county and state police and state and federal agents cordoned off the Downtown and Third Ward areas, setting up checkpoints on major roads and bridges leading to and from McKeesport and conducting block-by-block searches in an attempt to locate Francis.
The intense effort was not successful.
McDonough said Francis was called to the McKeesport police station just before 3 p.m. Sunday and was served with the PFA order.
An hour later, officers were dispatched to Building 1 at the Harrison Village housing complex for a report that Francis was trying to pick up his infant son, McDonough said. “That, itself, was a PFA violation,” he said.
Officers were unable to locate Francis, but minutes later, city police were dispatched to the other side of McKeesport, to the 1500 block of Yester Square in the Crawford Village housing complex, where Francis was reportedly sitting in a car outside a residence that also was covered by the PFA order, McDonough said.
Francis was arrested at the scene for violating the PFA and a firearm was confiscated from the car, police said.
He was handcuffed and his hands were placed behind his back before he was seated in Athans’ patrol car for the trip back to the station, McDonough said.
McDonough said that according to Athans, Francis became combative during the short trip, at times kicking the window of the police car.
Initial reports on Sunday indicated that the window of the police car was broken out, but that information turned out to be incorrect, McDonough said.
“Upon arrival at the station, the officer opened the door of the vehicle to remove Francis,” McDonough said. “Francis had a second firearm and shot the officer three times in the neck and torso.”
The surveillance video captured behind the police station shows that Francis was able to twist his arms so that his handcuffs were now in front of him, McDonough said.
At Monday’s press conference, county police Inspector Michael Peairs said a revolver that police believe was used in the shooting was recovered near the scene.
Athans searched Francis at the time of the arrest, McDonough said, but it’s unclear how Francis concealed a second weapon.
“He was searched and obviously he was able to secrete a weapon,” McDonough said. “As far as the mechanism of the search, that’s a matter to be taken up by the McKeesport police administration ... that’s part of their internal investigation after the fact. That’s not our priority here. Our priority here is bringing Mr. Francis to justice.”
In addition to McKeesport and Allegheny County police, McDonough said additional support in the investigation is being provided by surrounding municipal police departments, the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office, the Pennsylvania State Police, the state Attorney General’s Office, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and federal agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives and the U.S. Marshal’s Office.
Francis is described as 6-feet-2 inches tall with slim build, black hair and eyes. He was last seen wearing the black hoodie, camo pants and black shoes with white soles pictured in the video below.
Anyone with information about Francis’ whereabouts is being asked to call the Allegheny County Police Tip Line at 1-833-255-8477. Callers can remain anonymous. The department can also be reached via Facebook and Twitter.
TW: Gun violence
Video of Sunday’s incident shows the sequence of events, beginning with the patrol car’s arrival. (Submitted video by Allegheny County police)
Originally published December 21, 2020.