Altoona defends shooting by police officer

JOHNSTOWN – The City of Altoona is defending one of its police officers who shot an unarmed man just a little over a year ago because he had pointed a “dark object” at the officer, who was trying to corral him after a foot chase.

Attorney for the city, Karin M. Romano of Pittsburgh, said in court papers filed in Johnstown that patrol officer Mark Sprouse was “reasonable and justified” when he shot James D. Weyant, who on April 8, 2013, lived in an Altoona apartment.

The city’s side of the story differs from the story told by Weyant in a lawsuit he filed in March naming the city and Sprouse as defendants in a civil lawsuit.

Weyant, through his attorney, is asking money damages for the injuries he received when the gunshot entered his right shoulder region, causing permanent injury to his arm.

Altoona attorney Douglas V. Stoehr represents Weyant.

In his lawsuit, Weyant says that Sprouse “acted negligently and with total disregard for Mr. Weyant’s safety” when he pulled the trigger without justification.

U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson gave the city 14 extra days to

file its answer to the Weyant lawsuit.

Weyant contended he had attempted to visit a friend during the early morning of April 8 and left his apartment on the 600 block of Fourth Avenue.

The friend was not home, so he said he began to walk back to his apartment, but in the process he says his designer shorts, which had lost their elasticity, kept coming down, so he removed them.

He said he was still covered.

As he was walking, he said he was approached by a car, and he changed direction. He said the car came beside him. Sprouse allegedly got out of the car and without saying anything, shot him, threw him against a fence and handcuffed him.

The city’s version of events stated that when the police car came upon Weyant, he began running along the 300 block of Fourth Avenue Alley and then went between two houses.

“It is denied that [Weyant] was standing at the location where defendant Sprouse stopped and exited

the police car,” the city stated.

Sprouse is contending he came upon Weyant crouching behind the corner of a garage, and that Weyant was “holding a dark object with both hands in the manner in which one would hold a handgun.”

The officer, the city says, asked Weyant three times to show his hands, but Weyant instead “sprung from his crouched position and extended his hands, still holding the dark object, toward [Sprouse] in a manner which reasonably appeared to defendant Sprouse the [Weyant] was about to shoot him.”

The officer then fired his weapon.

The Weyant lawsuit charges that Sprouse was worked up that night because he had undergone firearms training at the Van Zandt VA Medical Center firing range just prior to his shift.

The city counters by saying Sprouse did not engage in “situational judgment training” that night.

He was at the range undergoing required training using his service weapon with a laser attachment to simulate live ammunition.

The city is also contending the lawsuit by Weyant is barred by immunity.

Judge Gibson has placed the case in the District Court’s Alternative Dispute Resolution program in an attempt to settle the case out-of-court.