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Pa. trooper probed in second fatal shooting

A state trooper who killed an unarmed 12-year-old boy in 2002, leading to a $12.5 million state settlement, was  involved in a fatal police shooting during a weekend drunken-driving patrol.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A state trooper who killed an unarmed 12-year-old boy in 2002, leading to a $12.5 million state settlement, was one of two police officers involved in a fatal police shooting during a weekend drunken-driving patrol.

Trooper Samuel Nassan III is under investigation for firing at Nicholas Haniotakis, 32, of Pittsburgh, about 1:30 a.m. Sunday on the city's South Side, state police spokesman Jack Lewis said.

An autopsy shows Haniotakis died of gunshot wounds. A trooper and a city officer who were taking part in roving DUI patrols fired at Haniotakis, according to a news release from Pittsburgh police.

Nassan, 36, of Pittsburgh, declined to comment when reached on his cell phone Monday by The Associated Press.

"Don't be calling this number again," Nassan said. "Right now I'm going to go file a complaint on you for calling this private number."

Nassan will remain on administrative desk duty while Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., city police and state police review the shooting, Lewis said. The removal from patrol duty is routine for officers who shoot someone on duty.

Nassan was one of two troopers sued for the Christmas Eve 2002 shooting of Michael Ellerbe, 12, of Uniontown.

A federal court jury in Pittsburgh found last March that Nassan and Cpl. Juan Curry fired at the boy as he ran from a stolen sport utility vehicle the troopers were chasing.

Most paid by state police
The jury awarded Ellerbe's father, Michael Hickenbottom, more than $28 million, but the state police appealed. The case settled for $12.5 million in November — by far the most ever paid by the state police in a wrongful shooting.

The jury rejected the troopers' version of the shooting: that Nassan alone fired at Ellerbe, and then only because Curry's gun snagged on a fence and fired, leading Nassan to believe that Ellerbe had shot his partner. Ellerbe didn't have a gun and Hickenbottom's attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, argued the troopers knew that all along.

A state trooper and a city officer were in an unmarked patrol car Sunday when they saw Haniotakis' SUV driving in the wrong direction with its headlights off, according to a press release from Pittsburgh police. The SUV nearly struck the police vehicle, sped away in reverse and eventually smashed into a parked car.

When the officers reached the SUV, Haniotakis refused to show them his hands and backed the vehicle up, hitting the unmarked car and nearly striking one of the officers, according to the release.

Both officers fired shots as the vehicle began to turn around and head toward one of them, the release said. Haniotakis continued driving but eventually crashed into a utility pole after hitting several more parked cars. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital shortly after 2 a.m.

Spokesmen for Pittsburgh police and the district attorney's office said they would not release any more information until an internal investigation is complete. The city officer involved in the shooting, identified by police as Sgt. Terrence Donnelly, is on paid administrative leave, which is routine for Pittsburgh police involved in shootings.

Online court records show Haniotakis was sentenced to 11 1/2 to 23 months in prison for trying to run over police during a suburban traffic stop in 2005. Those records indicate he had a record of arrests dating to at least 1999 for crimes as varied as ethnic intimidation and aggravated assault.