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31-year-old charged with homicide, assault, attempted murder
The son of a former McKeesport police officer who was fired in 2021 has been charged in connection with the murder of a current police officer, and with wounding another.
Johnathan Jermia Morris, 31, is awaiting preliminary arraignment on charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, assault on a law-enforcement officer and attempted murder of a law-enforcement officer in the first degree.
Morris is accused by Allegheny County police of fatally wounding McKeesport police Officer Sean Sluganski, 32, and injuring Officer Chuck Thomas Jr., 35, after they responded to a domestic dispute at the home of Morris’ mother, Candace Tyler.
Emergency personnel said Morris is currently under police guard at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, Oakland, where he was flown following the incident Monday afternoon.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Allegheny County night court, Sluganski and Thomas were dispatched to Tyler’s home on Wilson Street at around 12:11 p.m. after she called 9-1-1 to report that her son was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and was having an “episode.”
The affidavit states that Tyler said her son had served in the military.
According to the complaint, Morris left before officers arrived, and Tyler directed police toward Sumac Street.
Sluganski — identified in the affidavit only as “involved officer #1” — spotted Morris about 10 minutes later and radioed other officers that Morris had something in his pocket that “appears real heavy” and that he was running down Garbett Street.
According to county investigators, two passing motorists told detectives that just before the shooting, they were flagged down on Grandview Avenue by a man later identified as Morris.
The affidavit states that Morris told the witnesses in the car that the police were “trying to kill him” and asked them to record his interactions with them. The witnesses agreed to follow him and take video with their phones.
As they were filming Morris, according to the complaint, they saw Morris walk into the yard of a home on Grandview Avenue as a police car — driven by Thomas — stopped in DeLong Alley. The witnesses told police they saw another police officer approaching Morris on foot. According to the complaint, Morris produced a handgun and began firing at Thomas in the police car, who returned fire despite being struck in the face.
County police allege that Morris then turned toward the officer who was on foot — Sluganski — and shot at him as well.
Detectives said the cell-phone video corroborates what the witnesses told them.
The complaint alleges that Morris made his way to the parking lot of a convenience store on Versailles Avenue, where he told two passers-by he had been shot. As they attempted to provide first aid, the affidavit states, another McKeesport police officer arrived on the scene.
County police allege that Morris then produced a handgun and shot at the arriving police officer, who returned fire.
An additional police officer arrived and Morris was taken into custody, the affidavit states.
County police state that a 9-mm handgun with an empty magazine was taken from Morris when he was arrested. Detectives recovered five spent 9-mm shell casings in the 1300 block of Grandview, along with .40-caliber shell casings around Thomas’ patrol car.
Morris was flown to UPMC Presbyterian for treatment of gunshot wounds. Thomas was flown to UPMC Mercy Hospital, Uptown, where he underwent surgery and was released. Sluganski died at UPMC McKeesport hospital.
Court records indicate that Morris has no previous criminal record in Pennsylvania, aside from a traffic violation.
According to federal court documents, Morris’ mother, Candace Tyler, was a McKeesport police officer from 2005 until 2021, when she was fired after the city claimed she had repeatedly broken rules and accused her of insubordination, “conduct unbecoming of an officer” and dishonesty.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in July 2022, Tyler accused the police department of discrimination and alleged that she was targeted for sexual harassment, verbal abuse and punitive discipline because she was Black, and because she had repeatedly asked to be promoted. Tyler further alleged that she was told that the McKeesport police had a policy against promoting Black women.
City officials have denied the allegations.
In October, U.S. District Judge Christy Criswell Wiegand designated the case to be heard by a federal mediator no later than Jan. 26. The outcome of the mediation session was not available in court records.
Originally published February 07, 2023.