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State College Mayor, Borough Manager Say Latest Osagie Lawsuit Filing ‘Contains False Claims & Half-Truths’

In their most direct comments on the lawsuit to date, State College Mayor Ron Filippelli and Borough Manager Tom Fountaine on Wednesday derided what they called “false claims and half-truths” in the Osagie family’s civil complaint over the fatal police shooting of their son in 2019.

They added that the borough has “not withheld any information” about the shooting.

On Monday, attorneys for Sylvester and Iyun Osagie filed an amended complaint in the federal lawsuit that alleged the former officer who shot Osaze Osagie, M. Jordan Pieniazek, was “mentally unstable and violent,” and “unfit for duty.” It also alleged a now-retired captain had received information about Pieniazek’s alleged “excessive drinking and domestic abuse” but did not take steps to ensure Pieniazek was fit for duty in the days leading up to the shooting.

“This amended complaint, like the original complaint before, contains false claims, and half-truths, while also leaving out critical facts and context to understanding the incident, the background and the persons involved,” Filippelli and Fountaine said in a joint statement.

Pieniazek, along with Sgt. Christopher Hill and Lt. Keith Robb, went to the 29-year-old Osagie’s Old Boalsburg Road apartment on March 20, 2019, to serve a mental health warrant. When Osagie charged at them with a knife in the narrow basement hallway outside his apartment, Hill deployed a Taser but it was ineffective. Pieniazek then fatally shot Osagie while retreating backward.

All three officers were cleared of wrongdoing by District Attorney Bernie Cantorna following a state police investigation, saying the officers were in a “life-or-death situation,” and attempting to back away when Osagie charged at them with a knife. The state police Heritage Affairs Section found racial bias did not play a role in the shooting of Osagie, who was Black.

The Osagies have claimed the borough’s crisis intervention training model left officers ill-prepared and that Pieniazek in particular had not been given critical background information about Osaze Osagie’s situation. The borough has denied both of those claims in a response to the original complaint.

The amended complaint alleges that a family friend notified State College police in January 2019 about Pieniazek’s alleged drinking and domestic violence and Pieniazek entered rehab.

Capt. Chris Fishel, who later chaired the internal department review that cleared the officers involved, “continued to receive troubling information from an eyewitness relating to Pieniazek’s mental state while he was in rehab,” the lawsuit claims.

The complaint alleges Pieniazek had returned to work just days before the shooting and that he had been drinking again and acting erratically.

“We have not at any time placed any officer on duty, including those who were involved in the Osaze Osagie incident, who was not fit to provide the highest level of police services and professionalism in which the State College Police Department prides itself,” Filippelli and Fountaine said.

After the shooting, a witness contacted Fishel to express “concern regarding…Pieniazek’s increasingly dangerous behavior,” according to the amended complaint. Fishel allegedly told the witness not to take any action, because it would “complicate things.”

The internal review board’s report, which was written by Fishel, contained no witness information related to Pieniazek. The report documents one use-of-force complaint against Pieniazek that did not involve injury and was deemed unfounded.

“The Borough of State College and its leadership have not withheld any information and have been transparent in addressing this incident,” Filippelli and Fountaine said. “We will continue this practice moving forward.

“The borough had outside agencies conduct the investigation of the incident, held post-incident meetings open to the public, answered questions, and made available on its website many reports and resources for all to see.”

Filippelli and Fountaine said the borough and the officers will respond in detail to the inaccuracies contained in the amended complaint,” when they file an answer in the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania.

Pieniazek, who had been a borough police officer since 2008, left the department when he made a disability claim a few months after the shooting, according to the amended complaint.

Fishel retired in September 2020 after 29 years with the department.

Pieniazek, Fishel, Hill, Robb, and the borough are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The 3/20 Coalition, the advocacy group formed following Osagie’s death, said the claims in the amended complaint reinforce the call for justice and “actionable measures” by local government to ensure such an incident does not happen again.

“For nearly two years they insisted that all policy was followed, insisted that our calls for transparency and accountability were cruel and unfounded, insisted that they had provided us multiple independent investigations and we were just unreasonable to assert otherwise,” coalition secretary Melanie Morrison said during a protest Tuesday evening at the Allen Street Gates.

“With each new piece of information we receive, there is a communal ache. For some the ache is betrayal that those you have trusted have violated that trust. For some, the ache is knowing that being right in this moment does nothing to prevent it happening again.”

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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