Bethlehem police were only protecting themselves when they fatally shot John David Hirko on April 23 because the suspected drug dealer had fired the first shot at them, an investigation by the state attorney general's office and state police has found.
"The case has been closed, and no criminal charges will be filed," said Attorney General Mike Fisher at a press conference on Tuesday where details of the investigation were released.
"As a matter of law, it is our opinion that Officer Riedy was justified in shooting Mr. Hirko, because Mr. Hirko put Officer (Joseph) Riedy's life and the lives of other officers in jeopardy. Any police operation that results in a loss of life is undesirable, and in this case it is clear that police used deadly force to protect themselves."
Fisher said a five-month investigation showed Hirko fired one shot at officers as they attempted to serve a search warrant about 11 p.m. at his home at 626 Christian St.
State police Capt. Theodore Kohuth, Troop M commander, said the .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun used by Hirko was recovered by state police and was loaded with ammunition. He said the weapon was owned by Hirko and he had purchased the weapon in February.
However, Fisher conceded the bullet was not found.
"There were numerous police officers who testified to that shot being fired. The examination on the gun was consistent with the testimony of the police officers that a shot had been fired by Mr. Hirko," Fisher said.
Investigators further stated Hirko's girlfriend, Kristin Fodi, 21, told investigators in two separate interviews on the night of the shooting that she saw Hirko holding a gun in his hand just before he was killed.
Fisher identified the officers who fired back at Hirko as Riedy and Todd Repsher, but said an autopsy report showed Hirko's bullet wounds came from Riedy's 9mm automatic handgun.
Bethlehem Police Commissioner Eugene Learn was relieved to hear the investigation supported the findings of his department.
"This is a tragic event that occurred, but it must be remembered that the officers were reacting to the actions of the deceased," he said.
Learn also said Riedy and Repsher, who have been on administrative duty, will return to duty. Learn declined to allow them to talk to the media.
Kohuth said Hirko's gun displayed burning consistent with having come out of that home. He said, "It's also interesting to note that the investigation established that a portion of the fabric believed to have been the decedent's shirt actually fixed itself right to the weapon and the weapon was found in the same location whereby police officers stated Mr. Hirko was attempting to fire at them."
According to the report released Tuesday, an informant who bought two packets of heroin and two packets of cocaine the same night from Hirko told police that Hirko was in the living room "speedballing" -- injecting himself with a mixture of heroin and cocaine. The informant also told police that Hirko had a semi-automatic handgun next to him on a stereo speaker and that he often kept three handguns in a black bag close to him.
Based on this information, police decided to simultaneously enter the kitchen and living room while using a "flash-bang" distraction device.
The report said Officer Edward Repyneck used a tool to create an opening in a front window while Riedy setoff the distraction device.
As the device was deployed, officers shouted, "Police, search warrant" at the front and rear of the house, investigators said.
"It was at this point that officers saw Mr. Hirko stand and point his gun at police officers. Officer Riedy ordered Mr. Hirko to drop his gun but, Mr. Hirko fired a shot at police and Officer Reidy shot him," Fisher said,.
"According to the investigation, Mr. Hirko then pointed at officers who entered a rear door in the kitchen. Again, Officer Riedy ordered Mr. Hirko to drop his gun, but he did not. Again, Officer Riedy discharged his weapon and another officer, Todd Repsher, also fired his gun," Fisher continued. At this point, the investigation found, the house began to fill with smoke from a fire that started in the living room, where the distraction device was deployed. As the fire intensified, Repyneck and Riedy entered the house through the front door to rescue Hirko, who had collapsed on the steps and was still moving and holding his gun.
Repyneck used a fire extinguisher on the drapery and sofa. Riedy, who continued to tell Hirko to drop his gun, could not reach the suspect because of the heat and flames.
The report states Fodi, 21, was upstairs when police entered the home. She told investigators in two separate interviews that she went to the top of the stairs and saw Hirko on the first floor facing the kitchen and holding a gun in his hand.
She then heard a gunshot and saw Hirko fall backward onto the steps. Fodi reported seeing smoke and flames and ran to the back bedroom, where she left the house through a rear window with the help of police.
Police charged Fodi, who lived with Hirko, with possession of heroin, possession with intent to deliver heroin, possession of a small amount of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and criminal conspiracy on May 8 as a result of the raid.
Fodi was held for Northampton County Court action on the charges following a preliminary hearing July 25 before District Justice Nancy Matos Gonzalez. She is free under $25,000 unsecured bail.
Fire investigators determined the blaze occurred when the distraction device came in contact with combustible materials in the living room. Mark Costanzo, senior deputy attorney general, said noted that three rifles were also found in an upstairs bedroom. He said toxicology tests were "consistent with the deceased having ingested cocaine and heroin shortly before his death."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times