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State College Denies Officer Who Shot Osagie Was Unfit For Duty

State College Borough on Friday denied claims that the former police officer who fatally shot Osaze Osagie in 2019 was unfit for duty and defended the department’s internal review that cleared the officers involved.

In a response to the Osagie family’s federal lawsuit against the borough and four officers, State College attorney David MacMain wrote that M. Jordan Pieniazek, the officer who fired the fatal shots, “sought counseling for issues in his personal life wholly unrelated to his performance as an officer,” was monitored by supervising officers before and after and “was fully fit to perform his functions as an officer with no restrictions or limitations.”

Attorneys for the Osagie family alleged in an amended complaint filed in January that Pieniazek was “mentally unstable and violent,” and was “unfit for duty” when he went to Osagie’s apartment the day of the shooting to serve a mental health warrant. They also claimed that the department had received information about alleged “excessive drinking and domestic abuse,” and did not take steps to ensure Pieniazek was fit for duty.

According to the borough’s response, a third party raised concerns about Pieniazek’s off-duty conduct, which were followed up on by now-retired Capt. Chris Fishel and other department officials. The person involved “raised no concerns or complaints about violence, threats of violence or any safety concerns, and denied that there were any such concerns.”

Fishel and Chief John Gardner met with Pieniazek, who “acknowledged that he would welcome assistance,” and voluntarily went for counseling, MacMain wrote. After he returned to duty on March 11, Pieniazek was monitored and there were “no indications that his performance or service was in any way impacted.” The professional who treated Pieniazek also assured the borough he was fit for duty without restriction, according to the filing.

During his career, MacMain wrote, Pieniazek “never exhibited erratic and/or violent behavior while on duty. Any personal issues Ofc. Pieniazek may have had did not impact his duties as a SCPD Officer.”

The borough denied that Fishel received another witness report after the shooting about Pieniazek’s alleged “increasingly dangerous behavior.”

The response also stated that immediately following the shooting, Pieniazek was given a standard blood test that found no alcohol or drugs in his system.

MacMain wrote that Pieniazek is a decorated U.S. Army veteran who in his 12-year career with State College police was highly trained and received numerous accolades.

“Officer Pieniazek successfully handled countless high stress incidents, including mental health crisis calls such as this, and received letters of appreciation and life-saving awards from those he helped, MacMain wrote.

A day before the shooting, Osaze, who had a history of mental illness, sent text messages to his father and a caseworker suggesting he was going to die soon. When police learned he had returned to his apartment, Pieniazek, Sgt. Christopher Hill and Lt. Keith Robb went to serve the mental health warrant. After a brief interaction, Osaze charged at them with a knife in a narrow basement hallway. Hill deployed a Taser that was ineffective immediately before Pieniazek fired the fatal shots.

The borough denied that Pieniazek “failed to apply standard police training to de-escalate and/or use less lethal options.” On the contrary, MacMain wrote, Pieniazek “spoke in a calm, conversational manner until it was revealed that Osaze was concealing a knife.” Pieniazek ordered him to drop it but within seconds Osagie charged at him and Hill.

All three officers were cleared of wrongdoing by District Attorney Bernie Cantorna following a state police investigation, saying they were in a “life-or-death situation,” and attempting to back away when Osagie charged at them.

Cantorna said he was previously unaware of the allegations in the Osagie family complaint and referred them to state police for further investigation.

An internal department review board convened by Fishel also cleared the officers involved. The board’s findings report, which was completed 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.

MacMain wrote that Fishel “played no role,” in the board’s decision that “the officers’ actions, including the events leading up to the use of deadly force, were within policy limits.”

State police did not interview Fishel about “Pieniazek’s personal life as it had no bearing on Ofc. Pieniazek’s use of force on March 20, 2019, nor was it relevant to what is an objective legal question – was the use of deadly force justified under the facts and law?” MacMain wrote, adding that the investigation “found the shooting to be reasonable, lawful, and justifiable.”

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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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